Category Archives: Graduates

Guide Dog Jethro

October 19, 2012 — Thanks be to God (and to our Southwest Airlines miles), I was able to get a last-minute flight to California for next to nothing, so I could see Jethro before he made his trip to train with his new partner, in his new home in the Pacific Northwest.

It was the most amazing day. In fact, I dare say it was better than a public graduation in many respects. Don’t get me wrong; it’s terrific to be able to invite friends and family to the ceremony, to meet your pup’s new partner, to take in the whole thing. But this was an indescribably special experience. So indescribable, I’ll just have to…you know…try to describe it. (Bear with me, here. It’s what I do.)

Since my husband was out of town on unrelated business that weekend and couldn’t join us, I grabbed my best friend Amy (my former roommate, Jethro’s first babysitter, and known to all my dogs as “Your Amy”) and headed up to Sylmar to meet my other friends, who finished Jethro’s training when I moved. Sitting at the Denny’s restaurant and having mostly normal conversation, I think we all remarked at some point that this was so weird, and yet so easy. Absent was the gut-gurgling anxiety that usually accompanies a graduation. Absent were the questions about who your dog was matched with, whether or not the meeting will be awkward, whether or not they’re experienced handlers, whether they will love him like you love him. We had those answers. We know her. (Well, my friends know her. I had spoken with her on the phone at this point. We have yet to meet in person, though there is a plan in the works for that.)

So all that was left was the excitement of seeing Jethro.

We arrived at the school and met with the trainer who was working with Jethro and assigned to transport him for his in-home training. He had no idea that Jethro’s new partner had just retired my friends’ first dog, and when they told him, well…let’s just say I thought the pregnant woman was going to be the first one to get emotional, but I was wrong! Seriously, though, that’s one amazing thing about this kind of work: people invest themselves in it. Not just the puppy raisers. One silver lining in the cloud that is walking away from your dog on turn-in day? You know that these people — the trainers, the kennel techs, the medical team, the puppy department staff — they love your dog, too. They know what his purpose is. They get it…and they don’t seem to get jaded about it, no matter how long they’ve been there. I think it’s because every miracle is different.

Anyway, we piled into a car and followed the training van to a local shopping mall where the trainers usually take their students to practice during class. Jethro hadn’t seen us yet. We made our way down to an outdoor bench outside the parking structure and waited for Trainer 1 — working in blindfold — to walk through a set of doors with Jethro in harness, followed closely by Trainer 2.

We were a few minutes ahead of the trainers, who had stopped to relieve Jethro and work him through the building before getting to us. So we spent the time with our cameras out, looking expectantly at the doors, making sure my four-year-old goddaughter understood that we were NOT to call out Jethro’s name or go say hi to him when we saw him, and laughing about what passersby must have thought was going on. Finally, there they were!

He. Looked. Fantastic. My little man grew up and got himself a job!

I could hardly contain my awe as I watched him guide the blindfolded trainer, stop at the top of the stairs, guide him downstairs, stop at the curb, and do just what he was born to do. He was focused, and he was wagging happily along.

We followed at a safe distance — further away than necessary, actually, but long-legged Jethro apparently guides at a pretty good pace — and attempted to get photos as he worked his way through the mall. That resulted in a lot of dog butt pictures, like this one:

Working Dog ButtWe saw him deal with escalators, people, another dog (huh?), all sorts of distractions and sights, sounds and smells. He looked confident and capable. Little man was totally a pro.

After Jethro had his showoff time– er, workout, we stopped near a restaurant and snapped more photos before enjoying lunch with the trainers.

What a terrific opportunity that was! It was a real treat to get to know the trainers a little better, talk with them about puppy raising and training a dog for guide work, and find out what it’s like to do their job. It was also great to hear them talk about why Jethro was matched with his partner, and what makes him such a good guide. He is, apparently, just a really solid dog. And one interesting thing they said was that he can handle “down time” really well. It’s true that most guides aren’t working/guiding/walking all day long. Jethro’s partner has a job, which means in addition to being comfortable with public transportation, he will be spending a significant amount of time chillin’ in the office. I know from experience that some dogs (*cough*TRUMAN*cough*) just don’t know how to relax, and I’m glad to know that it’s a valuable trait in a guide, and something Jethro does well. (As a side note, I’m also glad to hear that snuggling is a valuable guide dog trait, according to Jethro’s partner. I KNOW he’s good at that!)

Jethro and his AmyAfter lunch, we walked back toward the parking structure and over to a patch of grass so we could spend a little time with Jethro out of harness, getting our own snuggle time with him before we headed back home. He greeted each of us with his typical tongue-out, wiggling-rhino-charge enthusiasm. I was happy to see he still considers himself a lap dog when he’s not otherwise engaged in his important career pursuits.

Incredible day, incredible dog. Incredible joy.

Guide Dog Jethro, handsome in his harness

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Loss. Gain. News.

Those of you who know me “in real life” know that it’s been a rough few years of transition for me and my family. I won’t go into detail; suffice it to say that there’s been a great deal of loss involved, different kinds, of varying significance. Along with some good things, of course — which sums up most of human experience, right? But change is hard for me, and as you can see by the dates of my last two entries from a YEAR ago, in which I made that grandiose “Hooray! I’m back!” statement, I’ve had trouble returning to blogging here and to writing in general, despite my deep desire to do so. It’s been a battle to work through some other losses in order to regain my momentum.

But some losses are planned. Beautiful losses that become gain for someone else.

I learned yesterday that my sweet, lovable, silly, cuddly, wookiee-noise-making, concerned-old-man-look-on-his-face Jethro is going to be a guide dog. I’m so proud of him! He worked hard. We worked hard. My friends who finished his puppy training worked hard.

Unfortunately, we don’t get a graduation ceremony. He’s going to be placed in-home with his new partner, who lives out of state, so Jethro will be leaving GDA in about a week and a half to make the journey to his new home. I am doing my best to arrange a flight to California in time to see him before he goes.

But here’s the kicker: Jethro’s new partner is not unfamiliar to me. While she and I have never met, she is an experienced guide dog handler whose last dog, recently retired, was also raised by my dear friends. They have a good relationship with her, and I know Jethro will be in excellent, loving hands, and I will hopefully hear about his many adventures to come. Once again, I praise God for putting my plans to shame with His better ones.

Congratulations to Guide Dog Jethro and his new partner! May you travel many miles and many years together with a bond of joy, a sense of adventure, and an unbreakable commitment to each other.

This pic was taken in May of 2011, just a few months after I moved to PA, when I returned to SoCal for a short visit and took him to UCLA for the day. The last time I saw him, at his turn-in last February, he looked huge to me — and he was only 18 months old! I hear he is absolutely enormous now. If I make it out to California in time to see him off, you can bet I will shower him with hugs and kisses and bellyrubs, and I will post photos here. Otherwise, this goodbye kiss will have to do.

I love you, good dog. Be good eyes.

My Kindergarten Graduate

Our last puppy kindergarten class was tonight! We practiced restaurant-style seating with the puppies under our chairs, facing outward, and the humans enjoying desserts and hot beverages served by the kindergarten teachers. There was a wrap-up discussion with one last chance to review all we’d learned and ask any questions we might have about puppy behavior or training ideas.

As much of a schlep as it is from my home to Lakewood every Monday night, I really enjoyed the classes. It’s been fun getting to know Jethro’s classmates (Kudos, Lundie, Murphy, Nevin, Noby, Neptune, Patton) and helping to encourage the first-time puppy raisers. This was a lively group!

I’ve decided that next time, in addition to the graduation certificate we receive at the end of the class, we should also receive a training tool at the beginning of class. Something like this, a helpful reminder of our responsibility as puppy raisers and a way to celebrate one of our early goals:

Guide Dog Lomax

What a weekend, you guys. I am wiped.

Then Blogger decided to poop out on me today by making me switch to the new version, but not letting me access either version. I am somehow logged into the old version as I post this — after writing a strongly worded “you guys SUCK, this is WHY I was afraid to switch” e-mail — so let’s hope it works, eh?

Anyway. Graduation.

I didn’t sleep the night before — not one minute of sleep. I tried, but the excitement was too overwhelming. I had been up late anyway, finishing a scrapbook of Lomax pictures and stories for Lomax’s partner and her family, and wondering what the day would hold for all of us. Sleep just would not come. And if you know me at all, you know sleep is one of my superpowers, so that’s saying something.

Sunday morning, my roomie Amy and I met Matt & Amy for breakfast at the Denny’s near GDA. I was surprisingly hungry. We shared scrapbooks and anticipation, and they gave me a lovely Lomax slideshow-set-to-music on DVD (that I could not bear to watch until today and which, by the way, had me bawling like Tammy Faye this afternoon, THANKS guys).

We got to GDA and sat in the room for, what, eternity plus a month or so? Finally, the trainers escorted Roomie-Amy and me to Lomax’s partner’s room.

I like her.

I hesitate to say too much about her here, because I didn’t get her permission to post about her in such a public forum, but I will tell you a few things.

Lomax is her first guide dog. She loves him, and she loves that he is a happy, wiggly, funny, enthusiastic dog. Her energetic boys are going to love him, too. She told me he has already had an impact on her life, and she told me a few other things that made me think he will have an impact on so much more than just her independence and ability to get around town. She loves to groom him, she says he’s great in traffic and makes her feel safe on stairs, and that he’s incredibly smart. She said she had a reputation in this class for always being the “I’ll go first! Pick me, pick me!” type…which is perfect for a certain yellow dog I know.

She indicated that she’d like to stay in touch, which was a huge gift to me. In the ensuing emotional and logistical chaos of the day, I did not get her contact information, but she has mine, and I am praying that after she and Lomax have settled into their routine in a few months, she’ll give me a call. Praying…funny. Seems like all my other prayers about this were answered: she’s young, leading a busy life, has kids, she even wants to go back to college! AND…I prayed last week that she would really hit it off with Liam’s new partner.

AND SHE DID. When I asked her how she liked the class, she said that she and Liam’s partner connected right away, before they even got their dogs, and that they would be keeping in touch. My heart nearly stopped.

Lomax, meanwhile, was on a tie-down when I entered the room, but the second he saw me, he went nutso. She unhooked him and let him wiggle his way over to me, and it was heavenly. He snorted and “fffFFFF!”ed and wiggled and tap danced and “MOOF”ed and kissed me and generally made a Lomax of himself all over the room. He was exactly the same! He looked gorgeous, healthy and strong and happy as ever. She said he weighs an even sixty pounds, and I could see that it is all muscle. His tail was the only thing on him that looked bigger to me, and I thought I was crazy for thinking so until Joanna said the same thing later. Amy and I had what seemed like not nearly enough time to visit with her and love on The Lomax, before they called the grads to harness their dogs and line up to head out to the ceremony.

She harnessed him, and it was amazing to behold. He was a whole different dog.

Not that he was missing any of his wonderful personality! He still looked around at the kinds of things that distracted him before, but he was a professional now. Such a good boy. They looked wonderful together.

I walked out behind Guide Dog Lomax and his new handler, past many of my friends and fellow puppy raisers, and took my seat next to them at the front.

Lomax sat quietly for the most part, doing his best to, shall we say, clear his immediate area of the leaves and apparently delicious tree-parts that were raining down on us from above due to the wind. He looked around at me several times, and the first couple of times I looked away so as not to tempt him to move or do something naughty, but when I saw that he could exercise some serious restraint, I gave in and looked him in the eye. Of course, we were the last ones to get to speak, so we had to sit through the whole thing before they got to us. I’m so proud of them.

After the ceremony, I gave her about 20 minutes to get back to her room and relax a bit, then I brought Joanna in to meet her. We spent more time kind of chatting with her and playing with Lomax, who had discovered the toy octopus I’d brought for him and was joyously honking and squeaking the life out of it, turning in circles and having a wonderful time. A few people came and went, and it seemed like a lot of activity, and in the overwhelming emotional rollercoaster of it all, I feel like I didn’t really get to talk to her as much as I would have liked to…but I have a feeling it’s okay. I’m sure I don’t remember everything that was said, and she probably feels the same. I am hoping there will be time and opportunity to get to know each other more.

Saying goodbye was really hard, but as I walked away from them I could see her and Lomax outside talking to Liam and his new handler, and it made me feel better.

It was hard to wash my hands when I got home, because I could still smell him on them. I miss him, and will continue to miss him, but I know he’s in good hands with her. And she is in good paws with him. And above all, I am proud of them and excited for their future, and I am grateful to God for so many beautifully answered prayers. We are all in His good hands.

Liam the Magnificent and Other Smart Boys

Watched this dog for a quick overnight stay when he was a mere 12 weeks old, and was astounded at his grasp of the verbal command “No.” Seriously, he would gently sniff some unauthorized item, I would simply tell him “NO,” and he would never go near it again.

He is seven months old now. Liam, who perhaps should have been named Linus, enjoys dragging his blue baby blanket around the apartment, while wiggling and grunting and wagging his tail. He’s the happiest dog I’ve ever seen. Even at six in the morning, when he awakens me with gentle whining and the BANG-BANG-BANG of his tail against the wire kennel, it’s adorable.

And what excellent social skills! Liam wasn’t even embarrassed at church this morning when the pastor’s four-year-old son pointed to his furry private parts and enthusiastically announced to everyone that Liam is a boy.

Connor (giggling wildly): “HE HAS A PE–“
Jenny: “Pee! That’s right, time to take Liam out to pee! Connor’s a smart boy.”

Hound for the Holidays

I have company for the holidays! Annika celebrated Christmas with me, which was lovely. She even enjoyed the Christmas Eve service at my church. I only wish she’d been here a few weeks earlier so I could say I spent Hanukkah with Annika.

At 18 months, Annika is the oldest dog I’ve watched yet; she’s being turned in for formal guide dog training in about a month. She’s very well behaved but has a habit of “testing” me EVERY time we go out. She’s big and strong, too, which has proven a little challenging on the stairs at 6 A.M. when she has to pee.

She’s also quite useful around the house. This photo shows Annika helping me with the laundry.

UPDATE 9/2005: Annika has graduated in a special ceremony and is now living the guide dog life in Pennsylvania. This special placement is quite an honor, because it means Annika is up to the very difficult task of accompanying her new person (an expert guide dog user who has had other dogs) on the bus and train to work every day.