Nyurf!

That’s the sound Sonny makes.

Lomax said “moof,” Truman says “rowmf” (and still makes his grunt-grunt-grunt-whiiiiiiine “grumpus noise”) and Jethro went from little beeps as a tiny puppy to a silly Chewbacca sound that defies my attempts at transliteration. And cute little Sonny says “NYURF!”

I found out his birthday (nyurfday?) is September 19th. That means I’ve had two September puppies — Sonny and Lomax, just a few days apart in the month. That also means he’s nine weeks old at the time of this writing. And he already looks different from the squishy furball I received last Friday! They change and grow so quickly at this stage, in noticeable ways. I’d post a pic, but I’m having technical difficulties today (too many dogs, not enough hands and uninterrupted time).

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, but we are quite happy and grateful to be spending it at home, with no travel or turkey or football or stress. We’re making tacos tonight, actually, and will celebrate the blessings of togetherness and everything else God has provided for our little family. There will be a fire in the fireplace, a DVD to enjoy, and probably some ice cream. We hope you’re feeling blessed today as well, whether or not you’re celebrating an “official” holiday wherever you are.

Anyway, the rest of the pack and I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Or, as Sonny would put it…NYURF!

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The Dog Isn’t the Challenge

“What kind of dog is that?”

“He’s a Lab.”

“Really? He doesn’t look like a Lab! He looks like a Golden.”

“That’s just because he’s fuzzy. He’s only eight weeks old.”

“Is he part Shar Pei?”

“Nope. He’s wrinkly because he’s only eight weeks old. He’s just got a big Sonny suit. Full Labrador.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

I forget just how many interesting moments you have when you raise puppies. I’ve had Sonny for less than a week now, and I’ve already had people challenge me about Sonny’s breed, distract him by whistling at him when I’m trying to get him to relieve, reach out to pet him when I’m carrying him in public, try to give me money to buy him dog food (because that cost is not covered by the guide dog school), and beg me — from the next checkout line over — to bring him to their house to play with their 18-month-old twins (whaaa…?).

I’ve known some weird dogs, but people are always much weirder. I realize that a lot of encounters are simply due to ignorance and that educating the public — graciously — is one of the responsibilities of a puppy raiser, but sometimes I am simply perplexed.

Guide dog handlers, I salute you. I’m sure you have some crazy stories.

Deja Vu

Truman looks thrilled to have another mini-me in the house, no? Riiiiiiight.

That’s okay. As I recall, the Jethro adventure started out in similar fashion. At first there was wild-eyed shuffling and living room donuts at the excitement of another dog to play with. Then, the realization set in: “Oh. He LIVES here. And he’s small, and loud, and annoying, and wants to chew on me. And the humans pay attention to him.” (By this I mean not that Truman is neglected in any way, but that paying attention to anyone but His Royal Grumpusness — at any time — is a serious violation of the Truman Penal Code.) And finally, the boys became friends.

I know we’ll get there.

So, to catch you up, yesterday was quite a different experience from my GDA puppy pickup days. I didn’t know as far in advance when I was getting a puppy, I didn’t get to choose his name (though I’m really happy with Sonny! Who knows where else that could have gone?), and I didn’t go to the school to get him. GDF is in New York, but they have a number of OOA (out of area) puppy raisers, so this is pretty routine for them. At least I’m within reasonable driving distance, and didn’t have to deal with getting my little guy at an airport! Fortunately, my Area Coordinator, who has been knowledgeable and helpful throughout the process, was able to bring him right to my house.

There’s not much else to tell, really. I got my bag of goodies — bowl, brush, collars, nylon leash, leather leash, chew toy, ear cleaner, fecal sample containers (a necessary “bleahrgh”), heartworm preventive, bag of dog food, and tiny yellow GDF puppy jacket — asked my AC some clarifying questions about some things that were in the manual, and that was that. For some reason that I’m sure is related to recent weather craziness (thanks again, Sandy), things on GDF’s part were a bit discombobulated, and I was missing a few items (training whistle and special training bone)…and my paperwork. Thus, I don’t yet know when Sonny’s birthday is, or when his shots are due, and I haven’t signed a contract. So, apparently, now’s the time to skip town with my cute new puppy!

I kid, I kid.

The rest of the day and night went pretty much on schedule. A little sniff-and-explore, a little chaos a la Truman, some logistical “uh…it’s been two years…how do I do this again?” moments, some brain farts regarding commands that are different, and a night full of unhappily crated puppy sleep interruptions. I will say that it’s a heck of a lot colder here in the middle of the night than it is in Southern California.

Little Sonny is a sweet, cuddly puppy. He’s easy to pick up and hold. He’s picking things up quickly and seems to respond to his name and “sit” already. Relieving on hard surfaces is coming along, but sometimes it takes him a while. He’s not too bitey, not yet hoovering too much (though he has a specific taste for cabinet and drawer knobs/handles) and he doesn’t jump inappropriately, even when he’s excited. But I can tell that he’s got confidence, and a stubborn streak (in a Labrador? SHOCKING).

But here’s the best part of the story. Sonny was supposed to come to me last week, but the delivery person got the flu, so we had to reschedule for this week. I don’t know why — maybe his other littermates had gone out to their raisers or something — but Sonny apparently stayed at the home of one of the trainers for a day or two. My AC told me that the trainer said, “I hope this one’s going to an experienced puppy raiser….”

And I just had to laugh.

That’s all for now. I need to go get some sleep. At least, I hope that’s what’s going to happen. I’ll leave you with one more shot of my yellow fellows, who are definitely settling in and becoming…if not friends just yet, at least Tolerant Big Dog and Only Slightly Annoying Apprentice Dog.

Big News in A Small Package

Everyone, meet Sonny. Sonny, everyone.

Sonny in the sunshine

We are raising Sonny — male yellow Lab #4 — for Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (otherwise known here as GDF).

Sonny likes donuts

After a number of little speedbumps in the process, we are finally here at pick-up day…which, in our case, was more of a drop-off day. But more about that later. I have a puppy to snuggle!

Already tired? Me too.

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

The Accidental Play Date

Most days around 5pm, I open our front door so Truman can watch out the storm door for the pack leader to get home while I’m busy with dinner.

Yesterday I heard him barking, which was only odd because I hadn’t also heard the telltale diesel engine sounds of the pack leader’s car. A quick glance out the window revealed an empty parking space, so I went to see what Roo was so excited about. I found him, tail wagging high and play-with-me hackles straight up, woofing and sniffing at the bottom corner of the doorjamb. And on the other side of the storm door? Someone else who was ready to play, bouncing happily around my front porch.

It looked like Toby, my neighbor’s Houdini Spaniel (sure to become an AKC recognized breed). This wasn’t Toby’s first solo flight around the neighborhood; I’d helped my neighbor corral him before. So with one hand on Truman’s collar and one hand on the door handle, I invited him in so I could get a closer look at his tags and verify his identity.

Ha ha ha.

Why did I not see this next part coming? Because I’m an idiot. As soon as the dog had two nostrils and a toenail inside my house, he and Truman went warp drive and zoomed around my living room, chasing and spinning in an attempt to break the Labrador land speed record. I reached for my leash after I somehow managed to get two hands on the spaniel and confirm his Tobyness, but fortunately, I didn’t have to try to break up the party. Just then, I spied my neighbor and waved her over. “I’ve got him!” The poor woman, who had only minutes before returned from an out-of-state trip because her flight home had been delayed three days due to good ol’ Sandy, was relieved.

When I refocused my attention on the furricane in my living room, I saw Truman do something that he has never, ever, ever — in his entire history of living with me, EVER — done before. He picked up one of my slippers and ran with it. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to anyone who’s ever owned a dog, but those of you who followed this blog during Truman’s early puppyhood will remember that he was many naughty things, but he was never a chewer, or even a thief, of inappropriate items. His efforts were focused on epic power struggles with me for ultimate authority (otherwise known as Conquering Earth One Human At A Time). But never did he even so much as put his wee puppy tongue on a shoe or sock.

Totally weird. So I yelled as though he could understand English.

“What are you DOING? There are half a dozen perfectly acceptable dog toys on the floor right there, where you are!”

After telling him to drop it (which he did, instantly) and letting my neighbor in, we gave the dogs another minute or two of NASCAR time. Then we agreed the boys should have a real play date soon, Toby went home, and I retrieved my soggy slipper with an eyebrow raise toward Roo before getting back to prepping the salad.

We sooooooo need a fenced back yard.

Happy Halloween…ish

Because of the cleanup of fallen trees and power lines in Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, the township where we live has officially postponed all Halloween activities, including trick-or-treating, until Friday.

(Is that weird? That you can just postpone a holiday like that? Would they postpone Christmas for a blizzard? It’s weird to me.)

Truman and Gourdy on the porchBut because this is the first year in a while that I’ve actually carved a jack-o-lantern, I wanted to put him outside on October 31st to fulfill his Halloween destiny, darn it. So here’s a quick pic of Truman and “Gourdy,” the world’s happiest pumpkin. We had three or four trick-or-treaters come by early in the evening (because they weren’t sure or hadn’t heard about the date change), but after about 7:30pm, I turned off the porch light and brought in Gourdy’s faux candle. I hope my happy pumpkin lasts ’til Friday.

Happy Halloween, everybody!