"Not My Dog": Tales from Puppy Raising

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Churlish, so very churlish

"Blind faith."

I picked up my issue of O Magazine right before bed, and found an article headlined "Blind Faith". It's written by a longtime GEB volunteer, who fosters a brood. She interviewed four of the people who got pups from her dog's (her phrase, not mine) A-litter, about their lives, about the "blind faith" they put in the dog each day.

I should be elated, but I'm sorry to say, that was not my first reaction. I am feeling churlish, purely churlish, and here's why.

So you foster a brood. Well, good for you. Good for the four people who got the A puppies.

The article talks about the pups being born, then jumps to their lives with their partners. And in between, almost as an afterthought:

"At eight weeks, they go to puppy raisers, volunteers who train them at home before giving them up for the important work they will learn to do."

Sure, that's a fair summary, but it missed a few points.

Volunteers who housebreak those 8-week-old puppies, sacrificing sleep to be outside late at night and out again at crack of dawn.

Volunteers who agonize and fret over these pups, worrying about their progress, probably almost as much as we do over human children.

Volunteers for whom training that pup becomes their hobby, what they do with large chunks of their free time.

Volunteers who love that pup fiercely, who believe in it with all their hearts, who do this knowing that it is not their dog and, if they do their job right, never will be.

Volunteers who, more often than not now, are doing this for more than a year.

Volunteers who watch the dog graduate with smiles and tears, who know (or come to learn) that they almost always will never hear of it again, and who accept (or come to accept) that this is the way it's going to be.

Reading the article for a second time, I see that the author mentions having been a puppy raiser, so I'm somewhat surprised she seemingly glossed over that process.

I'm sincerely not downplaying the role of raising a brood. It is commitment. It is work. It is important.

But, it is easier. While technically the dog belongs to GEB, it lives with you. When it retires, it often stays with you. You don't have that mental countdown looming, that seeming endless procession of 'lasts' as IFT day draws near.

I didn't feel those 'lasts' as keenly with Murphy. With Nettie, I cried in the car after our last trip together to Target, the scene of our highs (the Saturday before Christmas! Flawless! Unruffled!) and lows (the only time she ever pooped inside, and it was totally my fault.)

So yes, raising a brood is important, and don't get me wrong: GEB couldn't function without the people who do this work.

But you want to know what "blind faith" is?

Blind faith is talking to your 7-year-old about why Mom wants to raise another GEB pup, instead of getting one of those yellow lab pups advertised for sale on the flier at the vet's office. Blind faith is hoping with all your heart that you're not hurting him, as he says wistfully, "but I'd kind of like a forever dog this time."

Blind faith is figuring out how -- or if -- I can train another GEB pup, and do the job right, with a toddler in the house and an increasingly precarious job situation.

Blind faith is believing that I can kickstart myself again and try to be a more accepting person and get over my bad self in this fit of churlishness. Blind faith is that the next time around, I'll believe in my own self, the way I can believe in a pup, and silence that inner voice that tells me that no one really wants to read what I'd write about raising a dog that isn't mine. Blind faith is that it's ok to pour our my emotions tonight, raw as they may be at the moment.

Blind faith is still wanting to find a way, when there are so many reasons it would be easy not to.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Puppy raising pop culture

On "30 Rock" tonight, as Liz and Jenna discuss whether Liz's neighbor is too perfect for her. Liz thinks he might be: "He trains Seeing Eye dogs at home!"

My husband is preening as we speak.