Yale, Yahtzee Yardley, Yellow, Yoda.
All I knew was that he was a male, yellow lab with a name that started with a Y. We all spent weeks trying to figure out what his name could possibly be. Of course, no one actually guessed it. The two and a half hour drive from our city to the one where the Great Puppy Truck was being delivered was a grueling one - one I didn’t think I would be able to withstand. But eventually we made it, only to have to wait another few hours for the truck to actually arrive. But all the waiting, all the guessing, all the dreaming melted away in this one moment.
Love at first site doesn’t even begin to cover what happens when you look into the eyes of the puppy you are bound to for the next year. This puppy with a destiny far greater than he or I could truly grasp was under my care and I had to do everything right by him. It was a huge task, but I was ready to take his life and his future in my hands.
My beautiful little eight week old Yeti was a puppy bred at the Guide Dogs for the Blind facility in California. It was his destiny to grow up and guide a blind partner through their day, granting them the independence and freedom to live without restrictions. It was a big destiny, but one I knew my little baby would be able to handle. He had a heart purer than gold and even when he pooped in his kennel on the way home, I knew he would make a great partner for anyone.
I won’t lie and say that the first few months weren’t tough. I had never had a puppy of my own and I wasn’t completely prepared for the potty cries every three hours through the night. Or the insane amount of food he would eat or how he never seemed to get enough water to drink. But beyond all of that, I certainly was not prepared for how quickly he would grow up.
Training started right away. It was basic things to begin with, of course. I taught him how to play and to understand that biting was not ok and that when I told him That’s Enough, it was time to let go of the toy and pay attention to me. I taught him to Sit and Stay while I got his food ready and when it was Okay to finally go eat. The bigger and older he got, the more advanced his training became. He learned to Go To Bed on his special rug and to stand in exactly the correct place on my left side. He learned that wearing his vest meant he was a working pup and that it wasn’t ok to say hello to other people or dogs. He learned to love and to play. He learned what snow was and the ocean – he really did love that giant body of water – and he learned that he had a huge purpose in life.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is an organization that utilizes Puppy Raisers from nine states on the west coast. These states are broken down into smaller regions where groups of Puppy Raisers work together to raise multiple dogs. Each dog is primarily raised by one or two people but the group can also trade dogs around so they can get exposed to different situations. You don’t have a cat but your pup needs to be exposed to one? Let’s swap so she can come meet my kittens. I don’t have a doorbell in my apartment but your house does? Why don’t you take him for a day and have lots of visitors. It is an amazing opportunity that allows the dogs to be exposed to every possible thing they might come across once they start working.
The amazing thing about service animals is the compassion they are able to show their human counterparts and this wouldn’t be possible without everything they are taught as puppies. Yeti and I were fortunate that our state allows Puppies in Training to receive the same legal benefits as Working Guides which allowed us to go shopping together, see films, and attend concerts and sports games. Desensitizing the puppies to these exotic noises and smells and venues was part of our training so that when he finally became a Working Guide, he would be able to focus all of his attention on the job at paw. And I, of course, was more than happy to take my Yeti-bear everywhere I could.
But as I am sure you can guess, all of these puppies come with a return date. It is our job as a Puppy Raiser to teach and nourish these puppies until they are ready to return to the Guide Dogs campus. It is at the amazing facility that they learn the true essence of being a Guide and are able to be partnered with a human. Most dogs go back between twelve and fifteen months and honestly, this deadline was much farther away then I wanted to allow myself to be concerned with. That made it all the more painful and shocking.
He was eight months when they took him away. With little warning and zero chance for me to change how I’d been raising him, the leaders of our puppy group deemed me unworthy of him. They took him from me with four months early and the only chance I had to say goodbye was a group meeting a few days earlier. I held him and cuddled with him and worked with him for the two hours of the meeting before promptly being shooed from the house. I never saw him again.
I was prepared to give him back after a year with him. I was happy to let him go; to return to the school with a mission in mind and to watch him do amazing things. I was excited to see him partnered and to give him away on stage like a parent at a wedding. But I was denied every opportunity. He was transferred to another raiser but stayed within our local puppy group. I watched him grow up through Facebook pictures and stories but I didn’t attend another group meeting while he was here in town. He flew back to California without me. He went through evaluations without me and the final decision on what would happen to him when he was Career Changed was made without me. The people that surrounded us for six months cut me out – refused to acknowledge my work or my love. No one remembers what I did for him.
But I know in my heart that he remembers me.