"Not My Dog": Tales from Puppy Raising

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An amazing day!

Maybe it was a good omen, but I went out Friday morning before we left to look for an outfit. I found a sweater and skirt, and went to Chico's to look for jewelry.
I saw a necklace with colored beads that matched the sweater perfectly, and then I saw what the pendant said: "Love, peace, joy, patience" and other words. (Don't have it in front of me). Too perfect! (and on sale, too!)

The drive down was horrendous, but Saturday dawned gorgeous, just perfect. I popped in U2's "Beautiful Day" as we headed to GEB. It's one of the songs on the puppy-playlist I mixed on my iPod. I know, how geeky is that.

Anyway, even though I'd toured the Canine Development Center twice before, I signed up for the tour again because it was a good way to keep Andrew entertained that morning. And who ever wants to pass up the chance to ooh and aah over baby puppies, right?

In the weird happy coincidences continue mode, our tour guide was Lisa, who owns Farrell, Murphy's dad! It was so cool to hear about Farrell from her, even though Sarah has told me plenty too. She had a few minutes before the next tour, so I showed her Murphy's baby scrapbook. She agreed he looks like his daddy.

So then there we were at graduation.

I got worried when I saw all the boxes of Kleenex out! I have to admit, I had two worries. One, would I pick out Murphy out of all the black Labs? And two, would he remember us?

Murphy was the second black Lab in-- the first was Sarah's Diego, and I recognized him, from the pictures and from knowing he was with a young man. Then Murphy walked in and I knew him immediately. That's when I lost it. He looked so composed and mature.

Graduation was great -- they asked that only one person from each family come up to receive the certificate for puppy raisers, but I gleefully broke that rule. I was so proud of Andrew when he walked up with me and took it so proudly.

Afterwards, we got to meet Lance, Murphy's owner, in person. And yes, Murphy knew us. When Andrew greeted him -- after getting permission from Lance, of course! -- Murphy just lunged at him. We retreated to let Lance get him under control again, and then Woody, the class instructor and Murphy's trainer, suggested that we move to the back, where it was less crowded. That's when I got to greet Murph, and he knew me too -- he jumped all over the place again.

We talked to Lance, who lives in Wyoming, for about 90 minutes before we really had to get on the road -- it's a 6-hour drive back to Maine. I liked him so much -- he is a teachers' aide, so Murphy will be working in an elementary school, where he will probably be in hog heaven, being around kids all the time. Lance's first guide is retiring because of arthritis, but he is keeping her, so Murphy will have a friend to play with. He has a big fenced yard, he said, so I picture them having a grand old time. We bought Murphy a toy -- two tennis balls (his favorite thing ever) on a strong knotted rope, so that he can share with his new playmate. We also made a scrapbook of Murphy's puppy year for Lance, figuring that the kids at his school might like to see it. Andrew was so cute -- he insisted on explaining every page to Lance. He is so nice and so patient and generous with Andrew.

Anyway, enough yammering. On with the pictures:

Here's Lance with Murphy, just after the class came in.

This is Sarah, getting her certificate. Way to go, Sarah! My one regret from this is that things were so crazy that we didn't even get to talk, though we were sitting near each other during the ceremony.

Andrew got plenty of petting time with Murphy.

Here we are, all of us. Andrew felt very important, to have a camera and the job of taking pictures!

And finally, as the ceremony wound on, I caught Murphy (at left) and Diego comparing notes on "When do you think this will be over?"

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I promised a Sunday update ...

OK, so I lied.
I'm writing a follow-up story for my paper, and I'm on deadline for that. They pay me, so it comes first.

But to tide you over, here's a shot of Murphy the guide dog.

It was an amazing day .. I lost it when I saw Murphy walk in with Lance, his owner. He looked so professional and mature. I thought about that wiggly puppy, that exuberant adolescent, and there he was, looking like a pro.

Yes, he knew us when we finally got to meet and greet. He wiggled and wagged his whole body and even tried to jump on me.

I like Lance a lot and I am thrilled for them. I think it's a good match.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Let the countdown begin!

This will be the last update until after graduation... We are leaving tomorrow afternoon. The drive from Maine to GEB is about 5 hours if nothing goes wrong, and I don't want to push it. So Andrew and I will drive down and spend the night nearby.

(Luckily, Andrew's musical taste seems to have improved since the last GEB road trip we did, in which we mostly listened to the soundtrack from SpongeBob Squarepants, and assorted Wiggles. Keep your fingers crossed for me.)

I still don't know what I'm going to wear, and I'll be finishing the scrapbook tomorrow night in the hotel. But it will be ready.

I have to 'fess up. I talked to Murphy's owner. I'm writing a follow-up story on Murphy for the paper, and I told my boss I wouldn't do it unless Murphy's owner was ok with it. So GEB asked him, and he was completely on board, and we talked on the phone for a bit. I will spill all on Sunday, but let's just say I am thrilled. I think Murphy could not be going to a better place had I scripted it myself, and I thought Murphy's owner is very nice and a great match. More to come later.

I went to LLBean tonight, and I bought a graduation present toy for Murphy. I teared up a tiny bit when the cashier said "Oh, you'll have a happy puppy when you get home!"

Much more to come on Sunday. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Some new Nettie pictures

Lest my little blond not get attention in the week of Murphy nostalgia .. I have some new pictures!

Nettie is OBSESSED with trying to cram more than one toy in her mouth at any given moment. I missed the shot of a very large Nylabone and a Kong, but as you can see, she has two balls in play at once. She loves the blue ball with a rope and quickly figured out how to use it to carry another toy simultaneously:

We have been practicing not chasing cats. Squeegee is somewhat cooperative.

But we're being very, very good at focusing on our Kong and ignoring Andrew's toys!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Just distracted ...

Poor Nettie. At least twice yesterday, I called her "Murphy."

A visual refresher for myself:
This is Murphy....

This one is NOT Murphy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Distracted by minutiae

Well, I have an appointment to get a much-needed haircut, and have the hotel booked. I have Andrew's outfit picked out, and now, if I could just decide what to wear to graduation myself! (For non-raisers, this matters because GEB takes a portrait of the person, the guide dog and the raisers.)

Photographically, my black slacks probably won't be a good choice, since it seems like -- based on browsing past graduation portraits -- that the dog is usually sitting in front of the raiser, who is standing. Yes, I am over-analyzing this.

This really should be fun .. in addition to meeting fellow GEB blogger Sarah, whose Diego is graduating, I will also get to see the raiser for Murphy's mother, Wella. She is so nice; we met at the boys' IFT, and she said she is coming to graduation when I emailed to tell her the news. It looks like Murphy's sibling Mica also is on the grad list, and these are the first Wella pups to become guides.

I also still need to buy Murphy a farewell toy gift... one of the kind he can't destroy, of course! Just in case!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Maddox not graduating in June

Maddox's raiser got word tonight that he won't be in the June class after all, as they decided his pace and pull weren't a good match for the woman he'd been paired with. Even though it's just a delay for him, I'm kind of bummed. Beth (his raiser) and I attended the same orientation interest session, did the GEB pup pre-placement classes together, got the boys on the same day, took them to the IFT dropoff together, and went together to watch their IFT. It would have been too perfect to see them graduate on the same day. But at least he's still graduating.

More thoughts & finally, maybe a "why"

Yesterday was already shaping up as a pretty great day, even before I heard that Murphy was graduating. It was the first day since my fall last week that I actually felt like myself again, and it was nice to be getting things back to normal.

What really threw me off was how quickly the news unfolded. That afternoon, around 4, I'd gotten his final training report, which said: "Murphy's potential for placement as a guide is very good and he is a possibility for the June '07 class."

So I was already very thrilled and excited, and then around 6 pm, I got the email that he was officially in class.

It's important to note that this is not final -- something could still happen -- but that's fairly rare. As I understand the process, Murphy is already out of the kennel and living in the dorm room with his new person.

Andrew and I will definitely be going to graduation so we can see Murphy one last time and meet his owner. Bob is taking a pass; he likes the dog and he's happy for me and proud, but making him go would be like dragging me to a model-making convention. Which is fine with me, although he played a bigger role in Murphy's success than he realizes.

Some people (including Bob) have been somewhat amused and slightly puzzled at how into this process I've gotten. (Obsessed, Bob would probably call it.) Even I never expected how this would become a very big part of my life, not so much time-wise as emotionally.

Why? You know, I looked through my past postings last night, and I noticed that I was always saying I would explain why this has been such a big deal for me, and I never really did. That's probably because I didn't always know. It's easy to explain why your family is central to your heart. It's easy to explain why your profession is important to you, assuming you've chosen a path that's part of you and not just a paycheck, which is what journalism has always been for me. (Most of the time, anyway, but there's a whole other blog!)

But there's no easy niche to explain falling in love with a dog that you know won't be yours, and you hope won't be yours, even while you keep a small piece of your heart/brain ready to take him back with open arms, just in case.
There's no easy niche to explain why I put so much work and worry into it. I think you could in some respect say this is my hobby, and that sort of gets at it. I did enjoy it -- I love dogs (even though I don't think I'm a wacko dog person) and I like having one around.

But at least for me, it's been a little deeper than a hobby. Call it schmaltzy, call it corny if you will, but I think for me this has been my version of faith, or giving back, or karma. However you want to say it. Those who know me know that I'm not particularly religious in the traditional sense. I respect, and in some ways, envy a bit, those who do have a traditional faith.

I may lack belief in a deity, but I would describe myself as spiritual, if you define that as wanting to live a life that has value and live in a way that hopefully lives up to the values that I hold, of trying to do some good and live honorably.

This matters to me because it might be one of the things I've done in life that most affects another person -- Murphy's owner -- in a good way.

But raising Murphy, and now Nettie, has made me a better person. Patience, and trying to be zen, has been a consistent theme of this blog over the roughly 18 months since I started raising.

I am a work in process, but I think -- I hope -- I'm more patient.
I think -- I hope -- that I'm more accepting.
I think -- I hope -- that I'm more resilient about the long view.
I think -- I hope -- that my son, already a caring kid, has learned even more about helping others.

That's why it matters, and that's why I've done it, I guess.

Lots more to come, especially after graduation.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Breaking news!!

Our puppy evaluator emailed us this evening with this news: Murphy and his brother Maddox are scheduled to graduate on Saturday June 23!!!!!

Murphy will be living with a man in Riverton, WY, and Maddox will be going to a woman in Tucson, AZ.

I'll write more later. I'm pretty blown away with excitement right now!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

No dog, no blog, no noggin

OK, maybe I'm pushing the title too hard here. But here's why it's been all quiet on the dog & blog front.

Nettie has been over at Nina's house for 8 days now. Nina is our area coordinator, a dog wizard extraordinaire. She has been involved in GEB for 20 years, and I think has now raised 13 pups. She really is a dog whisperer.

Anyway, how Nettie got there and why she's been foisted on dear Nina for so long: by last Tuesday, Nina and I collectively decided that we all needed a break from Miss Nettie, who had resumed the demand barking at 5:30 a.m. drill. Exhausting and a bit of a drain on sanity. So we thought Nettie would go to Nina's house Tuesday night, and I'd retrieve her Saturday at puppy class. A break for us, a break in the routine for Nettie.

The best-laid plans ...

Well, on Thursday night, in a fit of grace and elegance, I tumbled down a flight of stairs at work and landed more or less on my head, leaving a fist-sized knot. Other than some initial dizziness and a seriously banging headache, I felt like I was probably fine. Thanked my stars that it could have been worse -- that it didn't happen when Bob was out in Seattle, and carried on with my life that evening.

My head had other ideas Friday morning. I awoke and immediately felt like I was going to fall out of bed. I was so dizzy I could barely stand. A trip to the doctor ensued, and the verdict was a mild -- MILD, I said, no big deal here -- concussion.

Anyhoo. As you can imagine, vertigo and even the best-behaved Lab pup don't mix well. If Nettie hadn't been at a sitter's, she would have been going to one quickly!

By Saturday, I was feeling OK enough to sit in the stands at Andrew's T-ball game. Since it was my birthday, I insisted that Bob then drive us to class so I could see and pet Nettie. But I have to admit, after 15 or 20 minutes at class, I was ready to lie back down! I had wanted a margarita for my birthday, but I was feeling like I'd had a whole pitcher of them, minus the fun.

So, I'm finally feeling relatively normal. Nina and I decided that I'd phase in going back to work, and focus on that, and then take Nettie back when that felt ok. I think we'll get Nettie back tomorrow or Friday. The (pre-head banging) break was nice, but now I'm missing her.

On the philosophical side, it was another reminder that we can want and want things to be a certain way, but when it comes to puppies -- and life -- you just have to deal with what happens, and make the best of it.

I fear that Nettie is having such a good time w/ Nina and her two dogs, though, that she may not want to come back!

And Socks, the cat who hates her, is getting quite arrogant. He thinks he's won and she's gone for good... time for rude awakening!