Monday, August 10, 2009



I received the call today, that after flying through all 10 phases of training in a mere 8 weeks, Ross was career changed for traffic sensitivity. I wasn't surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. I had actually expected the call weeks prior, and was relieved each week to see Ross climb on the phase report and not receive the dreaded call I know so well.

I knew that the decision had not been an easy one. I knew that the staff were putting every effort into helping Ross succeed as a Guide. Had they not, he would have been CC'd weeks prior, like I anticipated. I had no doubts that Ross would excel in training, but he had developed a fear reaction to traffic when he was about 9 months old, and he never quite fully recovered. I was grateful to the training staff for all of their hard work, but I also knew that whatever Ross' career would be, it would be the right one, guide dog or not.

I was honored by the kind training report they wrote about Ross:

"Ross" is an average sized well behaved dog that is affectionate and a willing worker. He adjusted well to the kennel environment and quickly bonded with his primary instructor. He also enjoyed community run and played well with roommates. During community run "Ross" frequently will "talk" with a bone in his mouth to the staff.

"Ross" is highly food motivated and especially enjoyed learning through our clicker training techniques. He appeared very well prepared for training and was a pleasure to work. He consistently required minimal handling around distractions and is eager to please. His guidework and obedience responses progressed at an above average rate and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy learning new behaviors.

Unfortunately, "Ross" has displayed sensitivity to traffic throughout training. This was identified at the beginning of training and "Ross" was put on a traffic socialization program using high value food reward. Despite seeing some improvements when loud or heavy traffic approach him from behind, he continued to startle and show significant sensitivity. "Ross" is being career changed due to his traffic sensitivity.
"Ross" has many exceptional qualities and has an extensive puppy history of working with special needs children. He would make a wonderful Canine Buddy candidate.

I think the most difficult part about the news was that I had to make a decision. If Ross graduated as a guide dog, I wouldn't have any say in his future. But, as a career change, his future was suddenly in my hands. I knew two things: 1) I couldn't adopt him myself. I would love to have Ross for the rest of his life, but he was born to do greater things in this world than keep me company; and 2) Ross needed a kid. Unfortunately, there weren't any Canine Buddy applicants waiting for dogs.

8/8/09: Fun Day

Today was Fun Day, an appreciation day of sorts that Guide Dogs hosts for puppy raisers. Fun Day is usually just that, but today I was preoccupied by Ross' career change.

After more difficult decisions for my club members, it seemed that this year we were at Not-So-Fun Day. I was lucky to have the opportunity to "spy" on Ross while there. He was out in community run with his friends, and his big ol' head and the way he followed his trainers around and eagerly demonstrated his tricks to earn a treat or two, were a dead giveaway that it was him. I hid where he couldn't spot me, and was careful to be very quiet. As much as I wanted to see him, I knew he would be distraught if he knew I was there and couldn't be with me. And so, I watched silently and soaked in the pride of how much he had bonded with his trainers, and how happy he was at Guide Dogs.

During the day, I was informed that there might be a placement option for him, and so I went to speak with the person who knew more information. She informed me that there was a boy, who had applied for a Canine Buddy, but who did not qualify for the program due to logistics regarding his visual impairment. With the exception of the official Canine Buddy title, the home was in every way a Canine Buddy placement - Ross would be the boy's beloved pet and companion, and show the boy how wonderful a guide dog can be to have in your life. I didn't hesitate. I knew that this is who Ross was destined to spend the rest of his life with! And so, I asked about the details of making it happen. It was simple: Ross would load on the puppy truck that afternoon and make the drive to San Rafael, where he would be transported to his new home. It was very sudden, and I was expecting more time before he left me forever, but I think this was for the best. I didn't have any time to second guess my decision, and Ross would get to his little boy that much faster!

I walked back to the kennel and informed his caretakers that they should say their goodbyes, as he was leaving that afternoon. As they informed their boss, I was given permission to visit with Ross. As the conversation ensued, Ross turned his attention towards us and looked at me. I asked, "Since he's looking right at me, can I go say hi now?" The caretakers kindly let me enter the kennel area, where they moved Ross from the group to a separate area where we could visit. Ross walked towards me without hesitation, and began to sniff the kibble bag hanging from the back of my waist. He must have caught my scent in his kibble sniffing, because all of a sudden he jumped on my back in excitement! He proceeded to turn and jump on my front, erupting into great WOOFs as he repeatedly slammed his body against mine with love. A greeting usually undesired, this is the reunion that every puppy raiser secretly hopes for.

Suddenly, everything was good again. My boy was happy, I got my unforgettable reunion and time to say goodbye, and he was going to spend his life with a child. I was truly happy.

I took some pictures of Ross, and my husband arrived to say hello to Ross and take more pictures. I smiled from ear to ear, and it was genuine.

We left temporarily to finish our Fun Day activities and to let Ross' trainer have some individual time to say goodbye as well. He had captured her heart just as much as he had captured mine, and I knew it would difficult for her to let him go as well. I put Ross back in the run with his friends, and as I walked out of the kennel, he jumped on the fence and let out another great WOOF!

At the end of the day, I went back for my final goodbye. I was able to take Ross out of the kennel for a while, and he got to visit with my puppy raisers and we took more pictures of him with nephew Jazz. Jazz was so happy to see uncle Ross again!

As I was getting ready to take Ross back to the kennel, his trainer arrived to let me know it was time. As we walked back to the kennel together, Ross pulled towards his trainer. I handed her the leash, and as we walked down the sidewalk together, Ross walked between us, turning his head from side to side to make sure both of his moms were still there. He was a happy boy.

I was fortunate to be able to stay with Ross until he boarded the puppy truck. As we sat and waited, he climbed into my lap, his hind legs still on the floor, and gave me a big kiss, just like he used to always do! He had grown in size and maturity, but he was still my big "Baby Woss."

I watched as he eagerly boarded the puppy truck, joined by many of his puppy club friends. As the truck was loaded, I learned more about the home Ross was going to. It turns out that the boy has a sister, and the sister is in dire need of a friend. Ross has two kids. And he will change their lives in ways they could never imagine.


3 labs 4 me said...

As I write to you, I am crying my eyes out!! Tears are falling over my key board. Your story is so sweet & you have touched deep into my heart. As a former raiser & foster mom for guide dogs, I know all too well, how hard it is to say goodbye. Thank you Whitney for sharing your incredible story. I hope you won't mind if I copy this & send this to my friends.

Becky said...

Oh what a touching post. Your story is so sweet. Thank you for sharing and inspiring me with your gift of love and service to others.