Carolyn Wing Greenlee

Puppy Raiser Story: Doris, Rebecca, and Beyond

I love visiting puppy raising clubs for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Hearing them talk about issues with the puppies gives me insights into the process of creating the dogs who become guides. I am always surprised at how much work it is, and how willingly these volunteers give their time and love. I also enjoy these meetings because I get to encourage them in their efforts. Some have never seen a working guide in real life. Maybe they attended a graduation, but it’s different to see a team getting around in a public place.

I am actively collecting stories for both my new book, A Gift of Puppies, and for this website, inviting the raisers to send me anything they think my readers would be interested in knowing. The day after I visited the raisers in Elk Grove, California, Barbara Edwards promptly sent me some stories of a puppy named Doris that she and her husband Jerry raised. They also have the blessing of being in close contact with Rebecca, Doris’ handler. That isn’t always the case. I think that’s because handlers are often so involved in trying to deal with their blindness and the new mobility tool that they don’t think about keeping in contact with their dog’s raiser. I also believe they have no idea what it cost the raiser to establish that puppy in confidence and good behavior, and don’t understand what it would mean to them to hear how the dog is doing in its new life of service.

I saw so much merit in what Barbara sent me that I decided to use it for both the website and the book. I thought her letter was worth sharing, along with two stories that Rebecca sent to Barbara and Jerry. My hope is that handlers and raisers will keep in contact with each other. I have been so grateful that Heather and Sarah Findley told me things about Hedy which gave me the courage to keep working on our partnership even though I found it difficult to connect with the hard-headed little Lab. Sarah and Heather always seemed to know when I was having a rough time, and there would be the email—a poem, a letter of encouragement, some information about Hedy—and I would see it was her nature and not that I was a failure. It’s helpful for the raisers too, because they get to see how their diligence pays off in the life of someone who really needs that dog.

From Barbara:

Barbara smiles with an armload of sweet, yellow Lab puppy Doris on pick up day.
Barbara holding Doris

Carolyn, thank you for coming to our meeting last night. It is always interesting to hear from a handler and get feedback that can help puppy raisers with their training. As I mentioned last night, our first puppy was Doris who is now a working guide in New Orleans and we are currently training Havarti who is Doris’ half sister (same mother).  We had a lot of anxiety a couple of months into our training with Doris and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into because raising a puppy who is destined to become a working dog is so different from raising a pet dog. There are a lot of “don’ts” and it is difficult to change your behaviors because the puppies are so cute and you want to do the typical things as you would generally do with a pet dog.

Once Doris went back to the GDB campus for formal training, we waited anxiously each week to receive the phase report and each time Doris progressed, we had to brag to family and friends. When she made it to Phase 10, we knew she would become a working guide.

My husband and I just returned from New Orleans where we went to visit Doris and her handler, Rebecca. We have become very close with Rebecca and communicate on a weekly basis. Rebecca is always asking us if Doris did this or that when we were raising her. I would confirm that she did which gave Rebecca some relief because she thought maybe it was something she was or wasn’t doing. They have really bonded and are still learning each others patterns. As a puppy raiser, it was the most rewarding time having the opportunity to see the dog we raised doing her job.

I wish every puppy raiser could have that experience because you can truly understand what an important role you had in raising a dog that has the ability to offer a sense of freedom to their handler. We have had many people tell us they couldn’t raise a puppy and give it up, and when Rebecca mentioned she wasn’t brave enough to do what we do, I told her I considered her the brave one for number one, being very optimistic about her situation (she started losing her eyesight at the age of 27 due to the diabetes she had had since the age of 2), and number two for her willingness to put so much trust  in Doris’ ability to guide her in public places and keep her safe.

I am attaching some pictures of Doris (she is a tan colored yellow lab). I often wondered why GDB suggested the puppy raiser put a photo album together because many of the handlers were totally blind, as in Rebecca’s case. But I learned why when Rebecca asked me to put an album together and describe the pictures. When she received it, she said the descriptions helped her visualize the photos and she really enjoyed “looking” at them.

Once again, thank you for coming to our meeting. It was very enjoyable listening to you and I look forward to reading your puppy raising book.

Barbara Edwards
Elk Grove Puppies with a Vision

Doris, a little yellow Lab puppy 10 1/2 weeks old stands looking straight at you with intelligent, dark eyes.
Doris on puppy pick-up day
Doris, a beautiful yellow lab poses in front of some half barrels planted with yellow daffodils.
Doris at Daffodil Hill

Next email from Barbara:

I’m sending you two stories Rebecca wrote to us. One is very touching about a little 4-year-old who was born blind, and the other reflects the need for educating the public about service dogs and the federal law that permits them access to any public place.

From Rebecca:

I have only had good experiences with Doris and going into public places… until yesterday. I figured it would happen sooner or later but it was still a shock. I went into a restaurant with Doris and a friend of mine and when we asked for a table it was taking forever for them to seat us even though the restaurant was almost empty. The hostess comes back and tries to seat us in the back of the restaurant in a private party room with a sliding door partition. My friend was like “No we can’t go there,” and when I realized that she was trying to seat us in a secluded area I told the hostess that Doris was legally allowed to go anywhere and that included the main dining room. She hesitated for a few seconds and then let us have a booth  a few yards away from the room she tried to sit us in.

So after our lunch I asked to talk to the manager just to inform him of the laws regarding service animals in a very polite way. He said… “Well, we had no idea what to do because we have never had one of you people in here before with a dog. Other times you people come in with walking sticks and it’s fine but when you people come in with dogs its different.” That was a little hurtful to me. I’d never been refereed to as “you people” before… And to think… just a few years ago I wasn’t one of those people he referred to as “you people.” I was just a normal patron. Take away my eyesight and I suddenly fall all the way down the totem pole into the nameless category of “you people.” It doesn’t matter that I haven’t changed as a person on the inside… outwardly I must be someone else to the people that make assumptions about the blind. That really bothers me. The manager went on to say that if it was a buffet that I might not be allowed in but since it was a closed kitchen he allowed it. I again tried to explain the law to him but I could tell he was patronizing me as I talked to him. The friend I was with agreed with that and said that he had a look on his face that made her think that as well.

…. So, there you go… my first negative experience (not because of Doris… but because of the misinformed thoughts of the public). But as always… Doris was an angel and people were coming up to us and telling me how cute she was   :)   That will be an interesting story for your puppy raising group.

Doris made a little girl very happy today. My mother and I were  shopping and a woman came up to ask if she could let her granddaughter pet Doris. I started with the initial “she is in harness” schpeel I have gotten used to saying at this point. The woman went on to tell me that her granddaughter was totally blind and four years old. Her parents have already started talking to her about getting a guide dog when she gets older. I couldn’t help it and I took Doris’s harness off so she could pet her. The little girl had been a premature baby and never had sight at all, and just squealed when she was petting Doris. It made me so happy that I was able to make her day like that with Doris. Doris kissed her on the nose. I chatted with her mom and grandmother for a while about guide dogs and a few other blindness issues then left, but took a picture before we left. I thought you might like to see Doris helping another blind person besides myself.

Carolyn: Because of privacy laws, I can’t post the photo of Doris and the little girl.

 Barbara and Jerry Edwards stand smiling with Doris and her handler Rebecca in New Orleans.
Guide dog Doris with handler Rebecca Messig, puppy raisers Barbara and Jerry Edwards

4 Comments

  1. Patty

    March 15, 2011 - 7:28 PM
    Reply

    Wow! What a amazing story. I am shocked at the “you people” remark too. It does show that more people need to be educated. I am so excited that the raisers and the handler are friends, we have been lucky in that also. In fact as I type this, I have by my side Barstow, a working Guide Dog. He is on vacation while his handler and family are overseas. Barstow was the second pup we raised for GDB, but the first to graduate. His handler has always kept in touch from the start. We have been blessed over the years of being able to take care of Barstow when his handler has traveled in countrys that he would not take his dog. We also have kept in touch with our other grads. One lives close by so I visit every few months or so. I agree it is important to reassure the handler that some “quirk” is actually part of their dogs personality and not something they are doing “wrong”. Plus being able to share the special things each dog really likes helps them bond more to each other. Also the first time we saw “our puppy” working with his handler really brought home the reason we do this. Knowing why and feeling why are two different things!

    • Carolyn Wing Greenlee

      March 15, 2011 - 10:44 PM
      Reply

      A big hug for your puppy raising efforts. I’m so glad to have your input about the connection between handlers and raisers! Dog-sitting is another areas of service that raisers do. I haven’t even mentioned that yet! You were a big inspiration for the whole puppy raiser journey I’ve been on for the past two years–ever since that afternoon at my neighbor Betty Helf’s with the raisers from Lake County. I was so ignorant back then. And even after two years of interviewing raisers, I’m still surprised at every encounter at the new things I hear and learn. Blessings upon all of you!

  2. Mary E. Trimble

    March 15, 2011 - 10:40 AM
    Reply

    These are wonderful stories. The restaurant incident was shocking. The guy just doesn’t get it, does he?

    • Carolyn Wing Greenlee

      March 15, 2011 - 12:59 PM
      Reply

      “Shocking” is the word. I was shocked when I read it. Tears came to my eyes. I have had some rejections like that, but her account felt in my soul the way the racial taunting hurt me when I was a little kid in the 1950s. With all your work with Red Cross disaster relief, you have spent years helping the wounded, terrified, and lost. I’m not surprised you immediately saw the horror of this kind of attitude and I’m grateful that there are people like you on this earth. I must add that most people aren’t as ignorant or insensitive. The worst they do is want to pet the dog. All we can do is try to educate them and pray for their eyes to be opened.

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