Sending Puppies-in-Training Off To College

GDA puppy raisers prep for “Turn-in”

Turn-in day at GDA is one of the happiest and one of the most heart-tugging days for GDA’s volunteer puppy raisers. The puppies these families, couples and individuals welcomed into their homes and hearts when they were about seven weeks old are heading off to the next step of their training to become a guide dog. These dedicated volunteers have attended countless obedience classes, puppy raiser meetings and GDA functions, and spent part of each day working on basic obedience and socializing their puppies.

Many GDA puppy raisers have raised several dogs, while some are experiencing the pride of turn in for the first time. It’s a day filled with a mix of emotions. We asked a few of our puppy raisers, before they turned in their puppies on July 19, how they felt about this next milestone in their puppies’ life, their responses follow.

18 going on 19

Two adult dogs and one puppyGail Leonard prepared for turning in “Thompson” the same way she has with her puppies-in-training many times… she picked up her next puppy several weeks before. Leonard has been a GDA puppy raiser for about 25 years, and Thompson is the 18th puppy she has raised. She is currently raising her 19th, “Pawdrik.”

“Pretty much the longest I have waited between puppies is a few weeks,” said Leonard. “When it starts getting close to turn-in time, I call the Puppy Department and ask them if they have a puppy for me. Sometimes, the two overlap for a few weeks.”

As a former school teacher, Leonard sees turn-in day much like she sees advancing her students to the next grade. “I am a teacher, and it’s my job to prepare these puppies for their next step. If I don’t, then I’m not doing my job. By the time turn-in comes around, there is nothing else I can do for Thompson… he’s ready for more of a challenge and I have taken him as far as my ability and knowledge will let him go. It’s time to move on to formal training with GDA’s licensed instructors to enhance his skills and move him along on his path to becoming a guide dog.”

Just one… Well, maybe another…and another…

Tiffany Brundy finds Treasure during training at GDAAfter turning in her first puppy, Bobbie Jo Dean thought she was “one and done”… that is until the puppy that she raised graduated and the graduate said to Dean, “Thank you so much. Now I can go to the grocery store by myself.”

Those words resonated with Dean. “These dogs provide independence to their blind partners. How could I not raise another GDA puppy?”

“Treasure,” the puppy she turned in this July, is the eighth puppy that Dean has raised for GDA. And she plans to raise a ninth. “I’m going to take a little break. Maybe three or four months, although I don’t think it will last that long. The program needs puppy raisers, and this is one of the most rewarding things that I have done.

These days, though, Dean has help from her 17-year-old daughter, Tiffany. “She is just getting better and better with every dog. It is so neat to see her progress.”

“Getting your ‘turn-in’ letter is bittersweet,” said Dean. “It’s heartbreaking because now you know the exact date your dog is leaving you, but it’s an incredible feeling knowing that you have taken your dog this far, now it’s ‘off to college’ for finishing touches. If the dog makes it all the way through formal training, it’s a relatively short time before he is partnered with the person with whom they are going to spend the next eight to 10 years.”

Raising kids and kids raising puppies

Alyssa and Joshua Yang and puppy-in-training, DuncanAngela Yang’s kids begged for years to get a puppy. She agreed, but not before deciding that the puppy would be a GDA puppy-in-training and would not be theirs to keep.

After her interview with the area leaders, Yang and her kids spent a lot of time learning all they could about the program. They attended events at GDA, went to the monthly meetings of the puppy raiser group and observed obedience training.

“I wanted to be sure my kids understood the important job they were about to take on,” said Yang. “Every time we attended a meeting or listened to a speaker, we came away with a greater understanding of how much these dogs do for their blind partners.”

Several times during “Duncan’s” training, the Yang family was asked, as are all puppy raisers, “How can you give him up?” Her response reinforced with her children why this puppy had come into their lives. ‘”When people ask I tell them that we went into it knowing that he was going back to GDA. That he wasn’t really ‘our’ puppy. We are fostering him for Guide Dogs of America.”

But knowing all along that one day you are going to give your puppy back doesn’t necessarily make it any easier when the turn-in letter arrives in the mail.

“When I read the ‘time for turn-in’ letter, I got a little teary-eyed,” said Yang. “As the time gets closer I worry about the kids and them having to part with Duncan. My son says, ‘It’s okay, we’ll get another puppy.’ We will, but it will be a month or two before we do.”

Taking it one puppy at time

Puppy-in-Training Eric on the beachFirst-time puppy raisers Carolyn and John Tyre were not sure they were “dog people.” When they started their journey with “Epic,” they quickly adapted to life with a puppy-in-training.

“I was looking for a charity to become involved in and one that would be hands-on,” said Tyre. “I knew going into this that he is not my dog and so our goal was to do all of the right things and, hopefully, have him lead a blind person one day.”

Even so, the day she received her letter Tyre said, “Epic and I sat down in the den. I got out the scrapbook that we have been keeping. I cried and cried, and Epic licked away my tears. My husband, who never calls me during the day, called. I told myself I was going to be really strong, but I wasn’t. He came home right away. We had our tears, but then we thought let’s enjoy these next four weeks.”

When she sees her area leader and if she’s not feeling so strong, Tyre says to her, “You didn’t tell me it was going to be this hard.” The response she gets back, “You’ll get another puppy!'”

It’s something they think about. “We’ll probably take some time while Epic is in formal training and see how he’s doing. We may decide our house feels too empty without a dog.”

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