Puppy walking

An adventure in looking after a puppy until it is old enough to be properly trained as a guide dog for the blind.

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's been a week since I blogged and Rockwell has been gone three days. I already miss his little happy face greeting me when I come home, his utter joy at mealtimes, the ears back and snorgling in his corner at the front door, the affectionate way he would lie at our feet in the evening.

I've been wondering how to write why he went back a week early without me sounding like a whining weenie. But I think I'll just write the way it all transpired and leave you to judge. I think I have enough perspective now to do that, and it was perspective I lost for a while there.

Over a month ago, the pattern of our lives changed a bit. Peter was home on holidays and then bereavement leave, instead of going to work every day. We knew Rockwell would be returning to Guide Dogs fairly soon. It seemed pedantic to make him walk properly all the time when he'd be really working soon. So I started to slack off. I let him bounce around at the end of a long leash because he seemed to enjoy himself so much. We kept up the strict no-human-food rule and the other rules but we didn't impose discipline while we were out. And then it started to show.

It got incrementally more difficult, day by day, for me to insist that walks be done my way. And then Peter went away for over a week. He had a business trip he had to do. I also started teaching for the Fall session - only mornings but it was a change. And the week that Peter was away, Rockwell really stepped up the lie-in-the-road-and-won't-come-home behaviour. It got so that I dreaded going outside the house with him because I knew I wouldn't be able to get him home without a struggle. But I had to take him out, four or five times a day.

Soon, the constant anticipation of a confrontation four times a day was making me doubt my sanity. And then of course, I'd say to myself, "it's just a dog! You can do this!" But it's amazing what a little negative brain chemistry will do to transform one's thoughts from normal to despair. And then I'd say to myself, "Peter's coming home in 4 days (or 3 days), and I have an appointment to see Sheila on Monday (the day Peter got home)". And I soldiered on. On the weekend, I enlisted the help of my friend in need and neighbour to walk with me and Rockwell so he would be a distraction and I could get Rockwell home. It worked but even so, Rockwell would still tug at the leash and lie down at the end of the walk. But on my part, it was a huge amount of moral support just to have to company.
in the road
One morning, as I stood outside while Rockwell lay in the road and I waited for good behaviour (knowing that I could not make him do what I wanted), another neighbour snapped this photo of the two of us with his cell phone. It might look amusing at first glance but what I see is me, trying not to have a breakdown in public.
a sign of submission
And yet, when we finally did make it home, he showed me how submissive he is, so I know he was not doing any of this for any bad reason.
looking out the window again
And then, we'd spend the afternoon in companionable silence, with me sewing and him looking out the window and keeping me company.

When Sheila finally showed up Monday morning, I broke down and cried and said I couldn't do this any longer. Even though I knew Rockwell would be going into kennels while we were away during the last week of September, I asked her if she could find some place for him to stay in the meantime. I felt like a total loser for asking and I felt like a failure, having come this close to the end of his legitimate stay and then bailing. But I just couldn't take it any more, the constant dread and anticipation of confrontation. So I bailed.

Sheila bless her heart said she understood completely and she would make arrangements. We both agreed that Rockwell could really benefit from a more stimulating home, somewhere with other dogs and more people. And in fact, that is where he is now - somewhere where I hope he is whooping it up. We also agreed that I had been handicapped in my year with Rockwell because I didn't have a large secure yard and I didn't have a car. I had thought I would be able to cope without a yard and a car and I did for most of the time, but they would have made the difference at the end.

So there it is - the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course, I know that Rockwell thrived under my care and that I taught him a lot of good things, including not to be afraid of loud noises and not to be nervous about small things. I probably took my volunteer job a little too seriously but then, I do that with the rest of the things I do in life too. I probably compared him a little too much with his predecessor Uma and he was a totally different personality. But he was a little too rambunctious and boisterous for me and I guess it just wore me down. I am also not very good at asking for help when I should but I'm getting better at that.

In any event, I wanted Rockwell to succeed in his ultimate task, which is becoming a guide dog, so I think I did the right thing in asking him to be placed somewhere else until he goes in for formal training. He is a smart dog and very outgoing and personable. I am so anxious for him to end up being a proper working dog. I will get updates from Sheila from time to time, telling me of his progress through school. And they will let me know if he is going to graduate and when. I just won't be able to visit with him once he's in school, so I will have to rely on second hand reports.

And I don't think I will be taking another puppy for several reasons. One reason is that I discovered I was allergic to dogs, more than I thought I was. I had become accustomed to Uma's dander so that I didn't really notice it any more. But when Rockwell came to stay a year ago, my allergic reaction caused me to get sick with one virus after another, about every month or so. Two other reasons are the yard and the car issues. Anyway, I think that's enough explanation for now. Later, I'll post some more photos of our last evening together, after I get them out of Peter's computer where they are now.
chest scratch under the table
This was our last morning together, and Rockwell is under the table, getting his chest scratched one last time by Peter.
our last hug
And here I am, giving him the last hug goodbye. Even though I've asked for them to come get him, I'm already tearing up and starting to miss him.


At 10:33 a.m., September 18, 2006, Anonymous Muffy said...

Julia, What a gracious, honest account. That last week sounded very stressful and I appreciated your summation of the cell-phone photo.
You and Peter did a GREAT job. I hope you'll continue to pass on what you hear about Rockwell's progress - I'm certain it will be progress!
Your reasons for not taking on another puppy are very sound. Enjoy your teaching.

At 10:41 a.m., September 18, 2006, Blogger JuliaR said...

Thank you very much Muffy, and one day, I hope we get to meet too! I was nervous about writing the truth but after some time had passed, I figured I could do it. Then again, there is "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". I always go with 1 and 3 but sometimes don't put in every darned detail. :)

At 1:57 p.m., September 18, 2006, Blogger 8675309 said...


I appreciate your frustration, and I think you did the right thing. I'm definitely for re-homing a dog, even if it's just for a little while...once a puppy raiser has come to the point of even considering such a thing, I have to think it's for a good reason that will benefit the raiser, the dog, and someone else. (Don't forget, I had the privilege of raising Lomax only because Joanna made a similar responsible, loving decision!)

Thank you for your transparency in sharing this experience. While we set out to do these projects in the service of others, isn't it true that we are sometimes even more changed by it than the ones we claim to be serving? You've been shaped by this as you've shaped Rockwell and brought him to maturity, and what a wonderful blessing that is.

Congratulations on doing a fine job of raising your little man! I'll miss seeing photos of him...please do keep us updated whenever you hear the slightest thing!


At 2:31 p.m., September 18, 2006, Blogger JuliaR said...

Thanks for your supportive comments, Jenny, I appreciate them. I always wondered about Lomax's "back story". :) I think when people only talk about the good times, they (even inadvertently) make it seem like there are no bad times. Even though I have no children, that's why I read some of the "Mommy Blogs" because they are so frank about the trials of raising kids, as well as the joys. It must be more reassuring to be a mother these days, and know someone else is going through tough times just like yours too.

And I agree that we are shaped by the experiences through which we live. I am certainly a different person than I was 20 years ago.

I too will anxiously await updates on Rockwell's progress, and post them as soon as I have them.

At 3:50 p.m., September 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think most of us are only "allowed' to write the good stuff about our puppies and therefore the puppyraising blogs seem so positive. The reality is that most of us have those days we question our sanity and abilities, especially when things aren't going well but we can't write about them in public (it may taint a future handler's opinion about a dog if they happen to read what we've written).

I commend you for your honesty and for making the decision you did. I'm sure it wasn't easy.

Lisa (AKA gwiz)

At 4:02 p.m., September 18, 2006, Blogger Sandy said...

Julia - You and Peter have done a wonderful job with Rockwell. He wouldn't be as far as he is without you two, and I'm sure he'll be top dog!

Admitting to frustration is difficult. Doing something about it can be uncomfortable especially if you feel you are admitting defeat. As Jenny said, we are all changed by our experiences, and the whole puppy walking experience is definitely one of them. That was a difficult time and you have to choose for your own situation.

Please keep us posted!

At 5:39 p.m., September 18, 2006, Anonymous Carmen said...

We saw how Rockwell blossomed while under your care. You did a fantastic job and had the wisdom to seek what was best for him during the last period of his stay. It takes an awful lot of courage to choose that path! I know the house must feel rather empty right now ... hey, the Schnauzers could visit....just kidding! What you did, taking in a cute puppy that would not become yours and offering him a home for a year, was one of the most generous acts that one could do. I bow to you!

At 6:43 p.m., September 18, 2006, Blogger Natalie said...

Hi Julia,

I haven't written about this on my blog before, and amybe I should, but I wanted to let you know that I've been through the same thing, kinda. My first puppy, I had to send her back after a couple of weeks because it just wasn't working out for a number of reasons. It was emtionally and mentally exhausting to be frustrated, etc. all the time, which I'm sure you know. I think you made the right decision, if that helps any.

Congrats on doing a great job raising Rockwell this far! Hope to hear more news about him soon :)

Nat and Petey

At 9:06 p.m., September 18, 2006, Blogger Zoom! said...

I ditto everything Muffy said. But, given the timing, I wonder if at some subconscious level you needed to have some control over when and how Rockwell left? I could be totally off-base, but it could be a way of coping with impending loss.

At 11:04 a.m., September 19, 2006, Anonymous oldgeezer said...

First, compliments on your honesty. It is often difficult to do an internal search in order to complete an analysis. If well done though, as appears to be your case, the result is peace of mind and a helpful blog for the Guide Dog people.

I know you and I know Rockwell. I predict that you will continue to do well as an understanding, creative person. Rockwell is an intelligent, albeit lively, animal. Once trained, he should be quite successful as a person's companion. Keep us posted - to paraphrase Frazier, "We care."

At 2:55 p.m., September 19, 2006, Blogger JuliaR said...

Lisa (Gwiz), I understand what you are saying and in fact, self-censored several times while writing this blog. However, I know the Guide Dogs organization I volunteered for wanted to know the good with the bad all during the year I raised Rockwell. And all of the monthly reports that were filed by the PW supervisor will be used by the trainers in the months to come. I also think that it will become obvious as time goes on that my "problems" with Rockwell were more me than him. Everybody who comes into contact with him says what a nice dog he is and to me, that reinforces that whatever the main problem was, it was probably my personality clashing with him, than him having some sort of problem.

Thanks for your encouragement Sandy. As I said to Lisa, I think the problem was more with me than with him. I didn't want to "ruin" him, so I made the decision that he should go on to someone else, rather that stay and struggle with me.

Carmen, I'm glad you had a first hand look at Rockwell. When you were here, he in fact acted differently with you and Jerome than he acted with me. As Peter says, he thinks Rockwell figured me out so it was time for him to be taught by someone new.

Natalie, it's interesting how, when we talk about an experience, we find that other people have usually been through something similar. That's a big part of the benefit of group therapy. And that's why I compared the blogging experience to the "Mommy Blogs" because those parents find sharing experiences easier too.

Interesting theory Zoom! However, I did do this once before (albeit 15 years ago) and while I missed the puppy then, I didn't feel a sense of loss. And my levels of frustration really were building over the last month or more so I think I really was having a mental moment, more than a loss moment. :)

Thanks OldGeezer, it's always nice to get positive confirmation like yours. as I've already heard from Guide Dogs, they think Rockwell will do well in his training and we all have high hopes for him to succeed in that which he was born to do.

At 12:51 a.m., October 07, 2006, Blogger The Chandler Man said...

I like your honesty. I rehomed my little Lomaxy man, but a year before his turn in date. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but he went to a great lady (Jenny, of course!) who finished up his training beautifully and helped Lomax understand what a good house for him was. I, too, felt really terrible about it. But it was the best decision for me, for Lomax, and I'm sure it was great for Jenny too! So, I bet you giving up your pup just a few weeks earlier is just fine, and exactly what all of you guys needed. :)

At 12:00 p.m., October 11, 2006, Blogger JuliaR said...

And thanks too, for your support "The Chandler Man" (I'm sorry, I can't remember the person-name, even though Jenny wrote it!). If the reason you re-homed Lomax was something to do with him (as opposed to something with you, which is none of my business), maybe you could blog about that? Lomax sounded like the perfect dog!


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