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.
Mary HoltzJanuary 6, 2012 - 2:36 PM
Such an inspiring story! I recall the days of raising golden retrievers and how much joy and pleasure they brought me! They are so cuddly and such amazingly delightful doggies. Nothing but wonderful memories!
Thank you C
Cynthia BeckerDecember 20, 2011 - 11:20 AM
What a wonderful idea for a book. I look forward to reading it and enjoying the photos of adorable puppies. This looks like a book I will carry with me in my travels. I work disasters for FEMA. In the past year I have had the opportunity to work with several people and their assistance dogs. While it is apparent to most of us why a person who is blind has a service dog, many people have difficulty understanding why a person who has no obvious disability “gets to bring along their dog along to work.” It has been a great learning opportunity for all of us. The people who patiently prepare these dogs bring such a service of love to persons with disabilities.
Carolyn Wing GreenleeDecember 20, 2011 - 11:57 AM
Thanks so much for your input, Cynthia. The more we can educate the public, the better. People with disabilities often don’t know they can get a service dog. I didn’t. I thought I had to be totally blind before I would qualify. I only had to be legally blind. Same with hearing dogs. A person can still have some ability to hear. And then there is the whole issue of businesses not knowing access laws, or the public not understanding why they can’t pet the dog. But mostly this book is about the blessings that the long, hard prep work with puppies is for those who care for them. Each one of the contributors has such a generous heart. It was a privilege to work with them on this book. May their stories enrich you as you go about your own work with people with assistance dogs. –Carolyn and Hedy
Mary E. TrimbleDecember 20, 2011 - 7:56 AM
What a sweet story! The pups are darling. I notice that there aren’t any chocolate labs among them. That’s because they are such a handful and have way too much energy and stubbornness to make good service dogs. I should know–I have one!
Carolyn Wing GreenleeDecember 20, 2011 - 9:42 AM
You’re right about the chocolate Labs–both that there aren’t any in the picture, and the reasons why; however, there IS one in the book. She was a big surprise to GDB. One of the contributors to the book is raising her. Appropriately, her name is “Sweetie.” Her brother is “Snickers.”
If anyone can handle a chocolate Lab, it’s you. Hedy immediately recognized a kind Alpha and gave you her belly. She adored you!
Hugs, Carolyn and Hedy