Storytime: Peaceful Warrior

Upon noticing a Facebook post from Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee (one of our partner organizations) that they just took in a dog whom they believe to have Sundowner Syndrome, we decided to post this story about Barley, who suffered from the same, in order to support them in their rehabilitation efforts. Hope this helps!

Peaceful Warrior 

We adopted Barley through Great Lakes Golden Retriever Rescue (GLGRR) about 4½ years ago. He is a beautiful Golden/Labrador-mix with lion-colored hair that feels like the silky pile of a thick, expensive rug. The white on his face belies his otherwise youthful appearance and provides character. It’s the kind of face that makes you smile. Speaking of smiles, Barley has many. There’s his “riding in the car, looking from side to side” smile, his “mealtime” smile, and his extra-happy “tongue hanging out” smile, which he shows us when he knows he’s about to get a ride in the car (at which point we go back to the first smile-type).

 My husband, Denny, and I started looking to adopt when we believed our Wheaten Terrier, Biskit, needed a companion of the four-legged variety. A few months earlier, she had lost her sister and fought cancer, which involved surgery and radiation treatments. Since she was well on her way to full recovery, it was time for her to get a new friend. After an extensive search, Biskit had a new big brother named Barley.

It’s easy to remember the date that Barley became a part of our lives – April 24th – because it was also Denny’s birthday. We had found Barley on the GLGRR adoption website after he had been in foster care near Grand Rapids for about eight months. Following several conversations with his foster parents and a successful meet-and-greet with Biskit, we decided that he was the one. Denny made the drive from New Buffalo to Grand Rapids to pick up Barley, while Biskit and I waited at home.

The round trip took more than four hours, and maintaining patience as I waited for Denny and Barley to return was not easy. Biskit knew it. I have always been amazed at the way dogs so readily pick up on our emotions, and, as usual, Biskit wasn’t missing a thing. She was watching intently, focused on me with a look of anticipation. She was waiting right along with me.

Although Biskit and Barley seemed to like each other during their meet-and-greet, we had no idea how they would do living together. As we waited for Barley to arrive, I bounced ideas off Biskit, my attentive listener, as to the best way to introduce Barley to his new home. In the end, we decided on greeting Denny and Barley outside and then taking a walk together to downtown New Buffalo.

Walking with Barley that day was more like a run. He was fast, full of energy, and clearly excited about being in a strange place after the long ride. He stopped and sniffed a lot, and Biskit followed his lead. To this day, we still walk that same route together every morning, and Biskit still likes to play follow-the-leader with Barley.

Once home, Barley was curious, as expected, taking plenty of time to sniff around and investigate. He especially loved his new fenced-in yard, where he could walk and wander all he wanted. He loved being outside.

Inside, Barley immediately recognized his special blanket on the floor of the den, which came with him from his foster home. It did not take long to find out that Barley loves blankets, pillows, and dog beds. Today he has soft items on which he can lounge in every room, but that special blanket still remains in the den.

From the beginning, as we saw how he actually observed his new environment, we could see that Barley was unique. He never intruded. He was tolerant, accepting, and patient, and he had an uncanny air of peacefulness, unlike anything we had ever seen in either dogs or humans. He picked up on patterns and fit right in. Barley showed us wisdom, a trait rarely attributed to a dog. We saw this in his humble demeanor. He just knew how to adapt. He exhibited good manners. If both dogs wanted a drink, he would step back, allowing Biskit to drink first. The same thing applied to going outside and coming back in. We’ve come to realize that these are Barley’s ways. After 4½ years, he is still the same.

Initially, Barley slept in the den on his blanket. It took him a few weeks to move into the hall outside our bedroom door, and then, after a month or so, he came into our room and made his bed in the closet, which we quickly dubbed his “man cave.” Soon he began following Denny everywhere. We’ll never know if the attachment developed because of the trip home together or something else, but it was the beginning of a relationship that can only be described as inseparable. When Denny moves, Barley moves. If Barley doesn’t have Denny in his sight, he searches every room until he finds him.

Barley’s attachment to Denny, combined with his loving, sweet demeanor, has had a significant effect on us, causing us to change the way we do things. These days we take Biskit and Barley virtually everywhere with us, and we go out of our way to help our dogs live good lives. We would do anything for Barley, and if Biskit could talk, she would surely say that she feels the same way.

 Barley began testing this claim two years ago when he started experiencing anxiety. He had always been afraid of thunderstorms, but this was different. Even with no storm approaching, Barley would begin to breathe heavily and pace. It was as if he was either searching for something or trying to get away from something; we couldn’t tell which. Watching him struggle was heartbreaking and frustrating. We felt helpless until we observed a pattern in these “battles”: they almost always occurred late in the day.

 I remembered hearing about a condition of confusion after sundown, but no details came to mind. We began to wonder if this could be what Barley was experiencing, and with a bit of online research and a discussion with our veterinarian, we determined that we were indeed dealing with “sundowner syndrome,” which is associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. For canines, it is referred to as cognitive dysfunction syndrome or doggie Alzheimer’s. The evening hours worsen symptoms of memory loss, confusion, and agitation, and in dogs, the symptoms may manifest as running in circles, barking for no reason, and pacing, as well as confusion in familiar surroundings and interrupted, restless sleep during the night. Barley was exhibiting many of these symptoms.

Now that we have a diagnosis and medication to give Barley, things are better. Occasionally we have perfect days, but on some days, we just have to love him through his battles, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours. There are nights when that connection between Denny and Barley is the only answer, so Denny goes into the den to comfort Barley, while Biskit and I stay in the bedroom. Sometimes Denny does what he calls “cocooning”: He puts Barley up on the couch, surrounds him with pillows and blankets, and waits for the anxiety to subside. On nights like these, none of us sleeps much, if at all. Sometimes Biskit and I come out in the morning to find Denny and Barley lying head-to-head on the couch. It’s precious, and we know our peaceful warrior got through another battle with his anxiety.

Our greatest wish for Barley would be that he could win the war, but that isn’t likely with this age-related condition, so we’re thankful for every battle he comes through, and we look to each morning as a brand new day with him. -Cathy Fryman

Storytime: Challenge is a Chariot

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers.

Challenge is a Chariot


Hi Everyone! 

My name is Trigger Boy and I am a 14-year-old Golden Coated Russian Circus Dog (just kidding) also known as a Golden Retriever.

            My Mom says I should be the Poster Dog for why NOT to put your dog in the bed of a pickup truck.  I had my front leg amputated after I leapt out of a pickup truck to chase a deer. (Oh, this happened BEFORE I adopted my parents here in Cody, Wyoming.) 

            Originally from Massachusetts, I was found on a playground and brought to a shelter. When no one claimed me, this young couple adopted me, and I lived with them for four years. We all moved to Wyoming, and on my first day here I saw this deer that had my name on it. I launched from the pickup, and that was a bad move.

            Well, they said I had nerve damage and I would have to give my leg up. After the operation, I started growling at the three young kids I lived with, and it was time for me to find a new home. 

            My name was Tigger, but being in the Wild West now, my new mom changed my name to Trigger, and she says I am a pistol! 

            Since I couldn’t keep up with my Golden brothers, the University of Wyoming Engineering Department took me on as a project to make a four-wheel drive “Waggin” cart. Four senior engineering students designed this award-winning device, and I got my wheels at a graduation symposium.

“Three paws up,” for those brilliant students! 

Two years later I crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.  I don’t need my “Waggin” cart here, where I romp with all the other Goldens, and wait for my forever family and friends to come play. See ya!

(Triggerboy, as translated by mom, Carol Polacek)

Do you have your own story to share? Submit it here!

Storytime: Well-Defined

Read this and other wonderful Golden Retriever rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers, Vol. II.

Featured Rescue: Golden Retriever Rescue of Southern Maryland


Golden Retriever Rescue Story - Well-defined

The first thing that struck me about Bo was the oddness of his name: one syllable that sounded too much like “no.” I took to calling him Bo Willikins or Bo Diddly. Then it struck me that “Bo” was probably short for “Bodacious.” According to Merriam-Webster, the word can mean remarkable or noteworthy, and its origin might be from a mixture of the words “bold” and “audacious.” Bo was all of these things in so many ways.

Even the way Bo came to us was noteworthy. He became my foster by default: I agreed to dog-sit him while his original foster family went on vacation, but then I learned that they didn’t want him back because he was aggressive toward their dog. I agreed to keep him as a foster, which I “forgot” to tell my husband until several weeks later, after he asked if Bo’s foster family was ever going to return from their vacation.

Bo had arrived at Golden Retriever Rescue of Southern Maryland after a bold escape. He had been confined to a garage and back yard, where he had lived for three years, since the arrival of a baby in the household. One day he managed to get loose and run into the house next door, terrifying a young child who was playing with a rabbit on the living room floor. The neighbor just so happened to be the president of the homeowners’ association. Needless to say, the family was forced to give him up.

Bo’s recovery from a number of neglect-related medical issues was amazing. A large, cream-colored Retriever, he had obviously once been a handsome boy, but his chest and belly were completely bald, and his skin was black and malodorous. He tested positive for the tick-borne illness, Lyme disease, which required a course of antibiotics. The medications he was given for his skin condition and for Lyme after he was rescued caused him to develop liver problems.

Bo needed to gain weight, so the first order of business was to get him to eat. The veterinarian had said that his skin condition was probably due to allergies, so we should avoid feeding Bo beef, chicken, or turkey. We finally discovered a lamb and rice food that he liked. Gradually, he gained weight and his skin cleared, though he still had spots and warts on his belly. We put him on a regimen of vitamin E and fish oil for his skin and fur, milk thistle for his liver, and vitamin C for his immune system. In time, his liver function returned to normal, and his skin and coat greatly improved.

Bo’s behavior was indeed bodacious. At first, he paced around a lot at night and wouldn’t settle down in the morning after getting up early with my husband to go out. Eventually, he started going to bed when the last person turned in for the night and getting up at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. Sometimes he’d pick up a rag or rope toy and insist on playing tug-of-war. When he won, he would shake the rope around, growl, and then roll on his back with the toy in his mouth, showing his teeth.

By far, the most challenging two moments of the day were Bo’s morning and evening walks; he was aggressive toward other dogs when on leash, as was my own dog, but Bo was also hostile toward people. I timed our walks so that we went out in the morning after working people had left and put their dogs in the house but before stay-at-home people took their dogs out and school-aged children went to the bus stop. In the evenings, we went out after dark, when all of the good doggies were already in for the night. On both dogs, I used a Gentle Leader, a muzzle harness that put pressure on their snouts when they pulled. I became familiar with all the houses with dogs in the yard, and we zigzagged from one side of the street to the other to avoid them. As we passed those houses, I would tell my two dogs, “We don’t care about that doggie, no. That’s his house, so it’s okay.” Or, I’d say, “That’s just a little doggie. We don’t care about him.”

Once we had passed, I’d say, “Good Sami; good Bo. Yes! That’s how the doggies walk! Good boy and girl!”

It worked pretty well for fenced yards, but for yards with invisible fences, where the dogs could come right up to the street, it did not work at all. And when we saw other dogs on leashes, these words definitely did not work. Sami and Bo would growl and bark and jump and snap and get into such a frenzy that they sometimes even bit each other! With the Gentle Leaders on, they reeled around snapping on the end of the leash, so at times, I felt like I was walking a couple of crocodiles!

One of Bo’s worst days was when a potential adopter came to meet him with her Golden Retriever. She suggested having them meet on leash in the street on neutral territory, but I thought they would be fine in our yard. I left her outside with her dog while I went to get Bo, and when I opened the door, Bo barreled down the deck stairs, burst through the breezeway door, and lunged at her dog, knocking the woman down in the process. She skinned her knee, cut her leg, and felt extremely shaken and upset. After we all calmed down, we did as the woman had first suggested, walking the dogs side by side in neutral territory and gradually letting them sniff each other. After that, we put them in the back yard, and they were fine with each other, but I knew that the deal had fallen through.

After more than four months, a different potential adoptive family came through. I had a dentist appointment that day, so I offered to drop Bo off before my appointment and pick him up after a few hours. I warned the family that maybe he should meet them and their dog outside, but Bo boldly marched right into their kitchen, kissed their resident Retriever hello, and settled right down. When I got back from my appointment, they asked if they could adopt him right then and there.

In the end, I realized that Bo’s name was really not that odd at all. His adoption story turned out to be truly remarkable, noteworthy, and, ahem, bodacious…and now he’s perfectly settled in to his new home, complete with a swimming pool. -Susan Casarez

Storytime: The Best Medicine: Prevention

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers, Vol. II

Featured Rescue:  Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue

The Best Medicine: Prevention

Cody - Leptospirosis survivor 

Do you have an extra $ 8,000 lying around? That’s what it cost us to treat my Cody Ray’s recent illness, which could have been prevented with a vaccine.

The nightmare began one day in August when Cody would only eat a ¼ cup of food for breakfast, though this was normal, especially because of his tendency to eat small sticks that upset his stomach. He had some vomiting and diarrhea during the day. Since it was a Sunday and since he’d had episodes of vomiting and diarrhea in the past, I knew what to look for before calling the veterinarian. Then, he refused to eat his dinner, so we decided to take him to the veterinarian in the morning.

 At the veterinarian’s office, we did an X-ray. While we waited for the X-ray report, the veterinarian gave him a dose of Cerenia (anti-nausea) and sent him home with Metronidazole (antibiotic) and Famotidine (inhibits stomach acid). Tuesday morning the X-ray report came back clear, but Cody still would only eat a meatball of wet food. During the day he became lethargic, so we took him to the veterinarian for blood work. When we arrived back home, he vomited some food and water. I called the veterinarian to report this and ask that he be hospitalized so that they could monitor him.

The next day, Wednesday, his blood work showed that he was in kidney and liver failure. The doctor said that he was dehydrated, and his blood work numbers were way up. Some possibilities were Addison’s (a condition in which a dog’s adrenal gland does not produce a sufficient amount of either cortisol or aldosterone), Leptospirosis (Lepto), or some toxin-related ailment.

Leptospirosis is a highly contagious bacterial infection acquired by contact with an infected animal’s urine. This contact occurs when a dog drinks from a contaminated source or absorbs the bacteria into the blood stream through a cut. There are many species of this bacterium, some of which can be vaccinated against. Lepto is rare where we live in Pennsylvania, so Cody had not been vaccinated against it.

An ultrasound showed only a slight enlargement of Cody’s liver and increased blood flow to his kidneys. Since this could be indicative of Lepto, the veterinarian sent out a test sample and began treatment while we waited for the results. With it still being summer vacation, I was able to visit Cody at the vet four times a day to walk him and attempt to feed him. He continued to refuse to eat and drink for anyone, but he would go potty when I walked him. He was happy to see us but looked sicker each day. The test results for Lepto came back negative, but since Cody seemed to be responding to treatment, the vet ran another blood test to see if we could yield a positive.

Early on Friday, Cody looked and acted his worst, and we made plans to say goodbye the next day if this continued. Luckily, on my two later visits that day, he seemed to feel better, and he took some food and water but vomited some of it back up again.

Saturday morning Cody appeared even better, ate a little bit, and, for the most part, held everything down. The blood test revealed an inconclusive result, so we did a Lepto titer test. The problem with this test was that the results would take five-to-eight days to come back. Again, we waited.

On Sunday, we decided to take Cody down to the University of Pennsylvania to see if they had any other treatment options or diagnosis. He was admitted to the emergency room and would be transferred up to the Medicine Department the next morning. The veterinarian at Penn called me the next morning and said she also thought that, while Lepto could be a possibility, she was leaning toward toxins, cancer, or reasons other than Lepto. We repeated the ultrasound and blood work. The kidney values had improved, and one liver value had gotten worse. The ultrasound was again negative. Since Cody still didn’t want to eat, his treatment continued the same way except that his medications were given intravenously, and one of his anti-nausea medications was changed.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Cody’s kidney values went back to normal, and his liver continued healing. He looked much better when I visited, but he ate very little, so I brought other foods with me to help encourage him. The vets began slowly decreasing his intravenous fluids to see how his kidneys would react, and they tried to give him his medications orally.

Thursday came, and I received the best call in the world. After 10 days of being hospitalized, Cody was ready to come home. His kidney values continued to remain normal, and his liver continued to heal.

Though Cody was home, we were still waiting for the Lepto titer result. Over the next three days, Cody continued to vomit a little, so we continued his anti-nausea medication. He peed twice an hour to eliminate all of the IV fluids from his body. We fed him several small meals that consisted mostly of chicken and slowly mixed in his regular food. Each day he ate more than the previous day.

The Saturday after he was discharged, Cody’s Lepto titer result came back positive of 1:400. The species was Lepto grippotyphosa, which a vaccine would have protected against. This species is known to cause kidney and liver damage. With such a low positive, Cody would require a second titer two weeks later to see if the number had escalated.

One week later, Cody began eating his normal portion twice a day. At his recheck, his kidney values continued to be normal and the liver values kept improving. We decided that with the first of two titers being positive, we would start my other Golden Retriever on Doxycycline (antibiotic) as well, in case she also was contaminated and just not displaying any symptoms.

Each day Cody got better and better. Potty time was less frequent, and he began to initiate play with Abbey. When retested, the titer result came back Lepto positive, 1:3200. The vet recommended that Cody and Abbey both remain on Doxycycline for an additional two weeks before receiving the Lepto vaccine. The rest of Cody’s blood work looked good, exactly as it had when he had been tested earlier in July, before his symptoms had begun.

This was a long journey that could have been prevented. We almost lost this special Golden Retriever simply because he had not been given this vaccine. Don’t let this happen to your dog!

By Bernadette Cook

Storytime: Must a “Real” Golden Retrieve?

Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers (Vol. I).


Featured rescue: Arizona Golden Retriever Connection


Must a “Real” Golden Retrieve?



When our Golden Retriever, Charlie, passed away, we decided that our three remaining mixed-breed dogs were enough. Several months passed, we had a lot less vacuuming to do, and the lint roller was sitting idle. However, every time we saw a Golden Retriever in a commercial or just walking down the street, our hearts were yearning, which eventually led me to my life’s passion.

 I was aware of Arizona Golden Retriever Connection because I had participated with them in the Fiesta Bowl parade. When the organization put out a plea for foster homes because they were receiving too many dogs, I answered the call. I did not know what fostering a dog was about but was willing to give it a try.

In walked our first foster, Harley, and our world was forever changed. Harley was nothing like our previous Golden Retrievers – Jake and Charlie were very calm dogs and real “retrievers.” They retrieved toys, loved to swim, were well mannered, and would never even think of jumping up on people.

Not Harley. The whole “retriever” thing is still foreign to him. In fact, he doesn’t even understand the concept of toys, let alone getting them and bringing them back to us. Harley avoids water at all costs, won’t step outside unless we’re beside him, and to him jumping up on people is an Olympic sport. We joke that if we have a party and no one leaves with a broken hip, the party is a success!

When we first took Harley in, we were troubled – this was not how Golden Retrievers act. We should know, we’d had two before. Then it hit us. We were trying to replace Jake and Charlie, but instead we needed to quit making comparisons and embrace Harley for the dog he is.

His shortcomings as a retriever became his “selling points.” For example, because of his fear of water, we didn’t deal with a wet stinky dog that developed ear infections all the time. Double Bonus!

We realized that he may not retrieve, but was instead silly, and his joyful exuberance surely made him a real Golden boy. For him, someone new – coming just to see him – was a reason to jump for joy. Turning his faults around worked so well that we immediately found him a home – ours! We had succumbed to what is known as “foster failure,” which in this case was a very good thing.

Now we have our Golden “Retriever” and the story should end there, right? Well, I still decided to volunteer for this terrific organization that had found us the “perfect” dog. First, I just did transport, then I became Intake Coordinator, then Board Member, and for the last four years, President.

Harley helped me find my passion and has taught me so much about life. He reminded me that I can mourn the loss of something near and dear and hold it in my memories, but I can never replace it, and that is OK. He showed me that the “baggage” each of us carries can often be pried open to reveal a treasure buried within. He demonstrated that sometimes not conforming is a good thing. In the end, he has helped me to see that we are all guided to exactly where we are supposed to be, even if that means being a little different sometimes.

Candace Ziemer

Storytime: Mylar Halos

Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers (Vol. II).

 Featured rescue: Arizona Golden Retriever Connection 

Mylar Halos

Golden Retriever Puppies 

We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That is also true when it comes to raising a box of puppies.

It all started with an early Saturday morning call to Candy, Arizona Golden Retriever Connection’s (AZGRC) president, from one of our veterinarian partner clinics. An exasperated vet tech on the other end of the line yelled, “Someone left a box of seven Golden Retriever puppies at our door. And they’re only about four weeks old. Can you come get them now?”

What?! Subsequently, Candy called me, and all I heard was, “Blah, Blah, Blah, PUPPIES, Blah, Blah, FOUR WEEKS OLD, Blah, Blah, AAAAAGH!”

Candy, still freaking out and sucking down her second Mountain Dew, picked me up, and we made the hour-long trek to the veterinary clinic. Puppies scare Candy more than the Grim Reaper, so her head was literally about to explode. I was convinced that it was all a mistake, and they would actually be Cocker Spaniels or something, and not our worry. We’d just find the right breed rescue to take them. No big deal. Soon I’d be back home leisurely drinking my coffee…

We arrived at the clinic and were quickly ushered to the back by the same panicked vet tech with whom Candy had spoken. Six little balls of fur lay sleeping piled on top of each other. Sadly, the seventh little boy had succumbed to severe dehydration. The next words out of my mouth could not be printed in this story.

My friends know me as a planner. Being a type-A nurse, I’m detail-oriented, procedure-driven, and I need a plan. So when we got in the van with the box of puppies and during the hour drive back to Scottsdale, Candy kept saying (loudly, I might add), “What’s your plan? What is your plan?!”

All I could say was, “I don’t have one.”

This was not good, but after the initial shock, Candy and I jumped into action. I called home, and my partner, Brenda, turned our dining room into a puppy intensive care unit. We stopped at Desert Tails Animal Clinic for some guidance and answers to the ever-important question, “Now what?” and they loaned us a baby scale, gave us some advice, and then, I’m pretty sure, laughed at us as we loaded the box of puppies back into the van. We purchased formula, bottles, and 150 puppy pads; we really thought that many would last a long time.

Six little babies that couldn’t eat or drink on their own – all weighing just over two pounds and hardly able to walk – were depending on us for their survival. No pressure, really! To keep them organized, we gave each puppy a colored Mylar collar, and we labeled them A, B, C, D, E, and F. These were to be their temporary purple halos promising safety and care. We made charts to track their daily weights, growth, and feeding…

Oh, my! Let’s hope they can pee and poop on their own!

The first five days were a bit of a blur, as they are with human babies, as Brenda and I bottle-fed the pups every two-to-three hours. There was little rest between feedings. Think of the length of a tiny puppy’s GI system; what goes in had to come out, and it did so about three minutes after eating! They drank from the bottle and got the formula all over their faces, so we bathed them. They peed and pooped, so we cleaned the floor. More baths. More floor cleanings. More poop. More baths. Who pooped now? Better wash the bottles and make more formula; the next feeding will occur in about 30 minutes… Did we shower today?

It was during this time and the weeks that followed, that the “village” emerged. We knew AZGRC had great volunteers, but the outpouring of help and the “we’re not afraid of a little puppy poop” attitude couldn’t have been more amazing! Puppies have more than just physical needs. They didn’t have a momma, so it was up to us to be sure their socialization and developmental needs were met, so they would grow up to be confident, secure, happy adults. These pups had several AZGRC “parents” who helped with all of this and so much more! Our own dogs helped with the growth of the puppies, too. Nola, our three-year-old female, didn’t want anything to do with them. So Brophy, our five-year-old male, took over as “Mr. Mom.” He faithfully watched over them and their toys and helped them learn that it’s not okay to bite a big dog’s tail!

It’s hard to completely describe how invaluable everyone’s contributions were. Brenda and I could not have done this alone. Brave volunteers came at feeding times, also known as “eating, bathing, and poop decontamination time.” They brought surgical wraps to protect our tile; they donated toys, formula, puppy food, and gift cards. Our “villagers” even did dishes, mopped floors, hauled away trash, brought us food, and even made sure I had Starbucks every day!

As the weeks passed, little “A” through “F” developed individual personalities began to spend more time awake – waking up around 04:30 a.m., which is military time for “O’dark, stupid”! They learned to play with the big dogs and carry toys and puppy pads, and they found out that action in numbers equaled results. For example, they worked together to drag their water bowl across the floor, and they all ganged up to bite human ankles to make food appear faster! (At this time we warned visitors that it was no longer safe to wear open-toed shoes.)

This was an amazing adventure filled with sleepless nights, days without showers, and lots of fast food. And it was an adventure shared with a “village” that proved to be filled with people who take the “connection” part of this organization beyond its definition.

Finally, the time came for little “A” through “F” to go to their forever homes and get real names. It was truly a bittersweet moment as Jackson, Junie Bee, Piper, Lucy, Lexi, and Lolly each grew out of the colored Mylar collars and received their permanent “purple halos,” and the AZGRC promise of finding the perfect home where they would be protected for life was fulfilled.

As I write this, it’s 12 weeks later, and only now have I been able to sit and leisurely sip a cup of coffee. The puppies obviously were not Cocker Spaniels, and I couldn’t be happier.

By Lisa L. Givan

Through a Guide Dog Puppy’s Eyes

This story, translated by Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy-raiser Jill Nieglos, shares a dog’s perspective on becoming a service dog. You can read more about Lilo and another dog Jill raised named Heloise in Partners with Paws: Service Dogs and the Lives They Change.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Hi, I’m Lilo, a Yellow Lab guide dog puppy born at Guide Dogs for the Blind in California.  When I was just three weeks old, some very friendly and specially-trained people began cuddling me and whispering sweet nothings in my ears. Bet you didn’t know puppies learn more quickly and bond with humans better when we are handled gently while very young, did you? This type of interaction with humans actually makes more synapses in our brains. And, as you know, we guide dogs have to be extremely smart; this is one of the tricks of the trade.

At about seven weeks I went on short walks exploring our campus, but I must say I wasn’t a pro on the leash then. My handlers were gentle and patient while I bounded about on my leash smelling the flowers and bushes.

At eight weeks I went on a long ride with my siblings and friends all the way to Colorado. If you ever see our puppy truck, you will recognize it right away because it has my baby picture on it! The puppy truck really is a very special truck. Not just because my picture is on it but also because the puppies in this truck will forever change people’s lives. When we arrived in Colorado, I saw smiles and tears and cameras everywhere. Everyone was so emotional! Well, I must say, after three days on the truck, I was too.  I kissed my new puppy-raising mom again and again before I became so exhausted from all the excitement that I fell asleep in her arms.

Lilo and JillPuppy raisers are often goofy at the puppy truck. For some raisers who were previously raising a puppy, this is a little bit sad because they have to trade their grown-up puppy for a replacement puppy. For others who are picking up their first puppy to raise, the event is exciting and nerve-wracking. Emotions are running high!  When we came off the truck one by one, there were enough “Oohs” and “Ahhs” to make you think you were at the Miss America contest.

What fun I had when we got home! A huge yard to play in with grass where I could “do my business,” flowers to sniff, and even an older dog to play with. My older sister, who has helped Mom raised seven puppies before me, is pretty strict. No chewing on her ears, I bet.  When we were in the backyard, mom told me, “Do your business,” and when I did it on the grass, you’d of thought I was the smartest puppy in the whole world! She told me what a good girl I was. Humans are a strange. My Lab mom didn’t care where I did my business.

The next year went by in a whirl! I’ve been just about everywhere starting with church. In the beginning I had to sit with Mom in the cry room, but guess what? I’m a baby myself, so I had fun with the other babies.  Soon I sat out with everyone else, but I had to be a “good girl,” which meant no chewing, playing, or barking.  Naptime! (Nothing against the minister, I hear he is good.)

During the next year, I went to lots of puppy meetings where I saw my friends and learned all sorts of neat stuff.  For example, at the outside mall, I learned not to bark at the skateboarders or the fire truck and how to walk over grates (scary) or up open stairs (yikes). But the hardest part for me was learning not to snag the ice cream cones the little kids were holding. I admit this is not to say that I didn’t try a couple of times, but Mom was quick.

The inside malls had all sorts of interesting stuff like toys that talked, funny people that did not smell like people, weird floors, and see-through elevators. Sometimes I was scared, but Mom was patient and showed me I was safe; I really trust Mom.

My mom retired from an airline and still has friends all over, so you should hear about all the places I went: A Polish wedding in Chicago (I do not polka, thank you); Yosemite (I met lots of nice tourists who asked to pet me, and when I was a perfect lady, I did get petted); Las Vegas (pretty lights but very crowded); New York City (Boy, was that an experience). I am now a pro when it comes to airports, buses, planes, trains, automobiles, and subways.

I went many places close to home, too. We visited the doctor’s office and the grocery store (I must say I’m so good at staying by those onions while Mom gets the tomatoes). Mom tells me the grocery store is important since my future blind person will surely go grocery shopping. I also went to concerts, banks, and restaurants, with restaurants being the most challenging because despite all the great-smelling things that were going on the table, I had to just sit on the floor and act disinterested.

Mom tells me I am the best of all eight puppies she has raised, but I bet she says that to all of them. One day we went for a ride, and I saw the puppy truck again. You remember: the one with my picture on it.  Mom whispered in my ear, “See you at graduation.” I didn’t understand, but she did since she has had several of her puppies become guides already.

That day I went off to school.  Wow, was I a busy girl! Six months of intensive training to learn about curbs, stairs, and obstacles. I learned about how to guide a person at night, in the rain, in the mall, and on country roads. The final test was whether I could do my job in San Francisco amidst the noisy cable cars.

After I passed all of my tests, I was assigned to my own person.  She’s different from my puppy raiser, but she loves me; I can tell. She hugs me a lot.  We worked together for a month before the big day… Graduation! Can I tell you a little about it?

What an occasion that was! Over 100 people were there, and us dogs were the center of attention, up on the stage beside our blind people. Everybody gives a speech (well, not us dogs, of course). There was not a dry eye in the house. First, the recipients thanked everybody for their dog (tears). Then, each puppy raiser made a speech about how happy he or she was that his or her “baby” made it (more tears). Finally, we (the dogs) gave a demonstration about how guide dogs actually work.  Everybody was so happy that they were crying and hugging… Well, you get the picture. Lots of Kleenex. Humans are weird.  None of us dogs were crying.

Now I am official, harness and all.  I look nothing like the little baby I was when I left California about 18 months ago. I have been a busy girl with so much to learn, but it was all worth it because now I have a wonderful life serving as my friend Pat’s eyes. I get to go everywhere with Pat, which makes me one happy dog.

Now that you know my story, I’d like to say thanks for listening, and hey, would you do me a favor? Wave if you see the puppy truck on the road between California and Denver.

Love, Lilo

(Transcribed by puppy raiser “Mom,” Jill Nieglos)