It is 2:54 am, and tonight sleep is evasive; the puppies are tucked safely away in their new homes and all is returning back to normal(except for the not sleeping part!). But unless you have had a litter of puppies in your home, the one thing that no one prepares you for is that although these are “just puppies” and they were only in my home for a short 7 weeks of their lives, they get a piece of my heart for a lifetime. I don’t stop worrying about them or thinking about them because they aren’t present in my home-it reminds me instead of when my own children went off to college. I frequently think of Sugar’s first litter that are almost 1 1/2 years old, counting down to the time when they will meet their person. Tonight I woke up after dreaming about the puppies and couldn’t fall back to sleep, so decided to write for awhile. But as I write this, I once again realize and appreciate the fact that although they aren’t with me, whelping homes are SO lucky because we get to experience their journey vicariously through the joy of others!
When the updates on the puppies started arriving as early as the same evening of the transition I was thrilled! I anxiously waited until the next morning to check Facebook (okay, SCOUR Facebook!) and see how their first night had gone in their new homes, what puppy antics they had put their new puppy raisers and great start homes through, and how they were adapting to yet another change in their lives. It’s an emotional roller coaster that no one can adequately prepare you for, and as with anything else I’m sure everyone feels varying degrees of attachment to pups that they raise in their home. I am one of those that feels large amounts of emotion so it seems fitting that my connection to these pups would continue, just as it did with Sugar’s first litter. I somehow feel an “ownership” in how their journey plays out just as I’ve done in the past when I have been a puppy raiser. I also think that doing this blog and facebook page to document the journey and share it with others has increased my connection to these puppies since I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about them! I think that the varied connections to these dogs are what make the volunteer journey so special.
When I think of the number of people that touch the lives of these dogs to get them to their final placement, it’s almost overwhelming. If the program gets in 70 puppies throughout the year, 70 or more new volunteers are needed. Breeding Fosters, Whelping Homes, Great Start Homes, Puppy Raisers, Inmate Puppy Raisers, Fosters, volunteers that exercise the dogs at the facility and take them on outings to make sure they are ready for their duties, Trainers, Staff that connect the dots for each of the dogs coming into or leaving the program and the list continues. Each of us gets to put a piece of the puzzle together to create the building blocks of the assistance dog in training on the “yellow brick road” to their client.
When that dog doesn’t make it to what we have already built in our mind as their destiny, disappointment follows-at least I know it does for me. It doesn’t matter the reason for the detour; many of us think if there is something we could have done differently-if we could have worked harder, if we could have trained better. In our minds, we know that many things determine whether a dog graduates from the program-but our heart takes the lead and it’s hard not to make it personal because we’ve put a lot of time and energy into “our dream” to make them great. I don’t pat myself on the back and tell myself “Well Holly, you did a great job anyways”-but rather “what did I miss and how could I have done it differently?” I don’t beat myself up over it as I know there are MANY reasons a dog may not make it through the entire program and many of those reasons are completely out of my control, but I would be lying if I said that once a dog has spent time with me in my home that I don’t take a vested interest in their success 🙂
But, on the other hand, when a dog whose life we have touched makes it to that pinnacle moment and our dream for them is realized I can only imagine what that will feel like. I say that because although I have been a volunteer for more than 5 years I have yet to be “in that moment”. I’ve lost count of the number of dogs through our home. We have tried to volunteer in as many opportunities as possible including great start, puppy raising, fostering, breeding/whelping etc. We have puppy raised three incredible dogs, all three were a different breed of dog-all with VERY different journeys. One was career changed(now a very happy and loved family pet for someone), one was moved into a different career path, and one is in final training to become possibly a mobility assist dog. But then there are the puppies that have been through our home and just as anxiously I wait for them to move through the program because I am equally thrilled to follow their journey! I feel a similar connection to them although I wasn’t a part of their formal training and growing up years-but I WAS part of their beginning days! I personally believe that everyone who has a hand in touching the lives of these pups rightly deserves the opportunity to celebrate in some form or another when they find their forever person!
So, the next time you see someone with a service dog in training and you want to ask them the #1 question we get asked of “How can you give them up after you have them for so long?”(Just for the record, the answer is “It’s hard! And, yes, we are sad to say goodbye. But we try to keep our mind on the final goal and remember that this dog will change someone’s life and that is incredibly AWESOME!”), try asking a different question instead to get a better picture, like”How do you feel when you see them change a life?”, “Why do you choose to do this kind of volunteer work?”, or the best question, “How can I help?” I think you will be inspired by the answers you hear!!!!