I had a shot in mind—arms of a puppy caretaker holding a rainbow of tiny, sleepy, snuggly, adorable, very young puppies. I wanted Labs of each color and a golden retriever—the breeds most often used for service dogs. I thought it would make a delightful cover for my new book, A Gift of Puppies. It took some coordinating with Joanne Ritter, Director of Marketing and Communications at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), and my favorite photographer, Nathan DeHart, but at last we were there, standing outside the green doors of the puppy kennels at GDB headquarters in San Rafael, CA.
Joanne knocked, and a door opened about fifteen inches. The friendly face in the opening said we needed to put covers over our shoes before we came in, and no dogs were allowed inside. Quickly, my guide dog Hedy was whisked away to a comfortable, warm place, and we were inside the Inner Sanctum, stuffing our shoes into the blue paper covers.
The person who had met us at the door was Sharon Kret, Program Specialist for Puppy Socialization at GDB. Smiling warmly, she welcomed us, and explained that scrubs would protect the puppies from anything that might have come in on our clothes. We were soon neck-to-toe in matching green. Then Sharon brought, one by one, Lab puppies of each color—black, yellow, white, and caramel—and a fluff-ball golden retriever who looked more like a stuffed toy than a living dog. Carefully Sharon lowered them into the fenced play yard where we waited for them.
I saw immediately that my image of one caretaker with an armload of tiny, sleepy puppies was totally unrealistic. Most of the dogs were eight weeks old, and much too big for one person to cradle one of every color in her arms. It took all three of us—Sharon, Joanne, and me—to manage the curious and squirmy little ones. Nathan tried to get them to look at him. They licked each other, us, and looked everywhere except at him. Finally, Joanne, who had been through many photo sessions with dogs, handed Sharon and me her puppies and stood behind Nathan with squeaky toys in hand. She made some impressive, unearthly sounds with her voice, and that did the trick, at least for a while.
We decided to let the puppies play, thinking they would tire each other out and be more mellow for the next attempt at the perfect cover shot. That led to some entertaining puppy antics, and I understood how the contributors to my book could say puppies are a great de-stressor. They certainly make you laugh and forget your troubles.
After the puppies had played enthusiastically in the yard for what seemed like a long time, we scooped them back up, our hands under their chests, their back legs comfortably on our laps. They hadn’t gotten the least bit tired. GDB’s puppies are bred for stamina, and these little ones had a lot.
Finally, I gave up on the five-pup plan. We were down to three puppies, with me holding the little golden. He was a character—wooly as a lamb, but not nearly as docile. It was all I could do to hold just him. Sharon held the white Lab and Joanne had the black one. Nathan made peculiar noises and puppy faces swung around to look for the source of the interesting sounds. Success!
For the past eighteen months, I have been working on my book with puppy raisers and breeder keepers from both Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence, learning through their stories how they care for these special puppies before they return them for training for service. Eighteen months—it’s the same length of time most raisers have with those puppies. As with puppies, this book has been a lot of work. Now it’s ready to go out into the world to fulfill its own purpose. I certainly have become fond of it, and all the people I’ve met along the way, including Joanne Ritter and Sharon Kret. The community that cares for these puppies is as remarkable as the dogs that serve the disabled. That’s why I tell people my book is not about the dogs as much as it’s about the people who give the gift of puppies.
A Gift of Puppies—getting them ready for a life of service and love is now available for download from Earthen Vessel Productions.