Written by Amie Chapman
A few weeks ago I got a very surprising phone call from Guide Dogs for the Blind, letting me know that Chanel (puppy #11) was being retired. In the past I was always notified by a letter that a puppy I had raised was retired, but each one of those dogs was going to stay with their partners. The reason I got a call this time was because I was given the opportunity to keep or place Chanel—for some reason her partner was not able to keep her himself.
With each puppy I raise I am committed to giving them whatever they need, for whatever reason, no matter what their life stage. This one of the reasons I try to stay in contact with everyone who receives a dog that I raise, and for the most part I have. It is always up to the partner if they keep in contact with their service dog’s raiser if the organization where they got their dog gives them the raiser’s information. Not every service dog organization gives puppy raiser information to the recipients of the dogs. I’m honestly don’t understand why an organization wouldn’t want their clients to meet their dog’s raisers. I personally love sharing stories with the people who receive dogs I have raised. And of course hearing the adventures these dogs have with the partners is probably my absolute favorite thing about puppy raising.
“She did seem to remember us at her graduation, but that was almost four years ago. How was she handling being separated from her partner? How has she changed over the years? What was her life like?”
Chanel, however, was the only graduate that I have had absolutely no contact with after she graduated. There have been two puppies for whom I was their second puppy raiser; when they were career changed, they went back to their first raisers and I never got to meet them. So when I got the call it was very unexpected.
Of course I said absolutely, yes, I would be happy to place Chanel with a family that I know will take great care of her. I would love to be able to keep every single dog that I raise that either gets career changed or retired, but unfortunately I just don’t have the space to have that many dogs.
I got lots of inquires about why Chanel was being retired at only five years old, which is still pretty young for a dog. There are a few reasons why a service dog would be retired at a young age. They could find working too stressful, they could have developed a fear issue, they could have developed a health or behavior problem, or there could have been some sort of life change for the handler that made it so that they could no longer work with the dog. In Chanel’s case it was the last one.
I wasn’t given much information, and I completely respect the privacy of her former handler, but I was only told that it was an issue with her partner that caused the early retirement. Chanel’s health (both mental and physical) and behavior were all still good. However she was at an age that was considered too old to retrain and place her with a new handler.
After I got over the initial shock of the knowledge of Chanel being back in my life, I had lots of questions. Would she remember us? After all, Matt and I were only Chanel’s first puppy raisers. We got her at nine weeks old and handed her off to her other raisers when she was about five months old. She did seem to remember us at her graduation, but that was almost four years ago. How was she handling being separated from her partner? How has she changed over the years? What was her life like?
Well the first question was answered when we picked her up from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Campus a few days after I got the call. When she was brought out to us it took only a second or two for her tail to start wagging and for her to start jumping around. It seemed liked she definitely remembered us. We gathered her things and she hopped in the car, curled up on the floor by my feet, rested her head on the seat next to my leg and went right to sleep like it was the usual routine. I thought, “Well that was easy!”
When we got her back to the house, Ricki was probably the most excited I had seen her in a while interacting with another dog. She is really a people dog and prefers to play with people over other dogs. But boy, was she happy to see Chanel, and Chanel seemed really excited to see her too! When Chanel was a puppy, she and Ricki got along really well and it was nice to see them together again.
Ozzy on the other hand had never met Chanel, since we got him after Chanel had transferred away from us. He immediately liked her, which doesn’t always happen when he meets a new dog.
“It wasn’t easy giving her up to another family to raise, and now that she is back once again it isn’t the easiest to let her go again.”
The answer to how Chanel is adjusting to being separated from her partner is: a lot better than I thought she would. I did find out that she spent some time with a foster care family before we picked her up, so she had a little time to adjust to being a non-working dog. This one of the things that I love about Guide Dogs for the Blind: they put the care for their dogs as a high priority. Being in a kennel environment can be very stressful and getting Chanel out of the kennel and back into a home environment where she can adjust to this life change was the best thing for her. I do think that there are times that she is missing her partner, but overall the adjustment has been smooth. It is very obvious that she was well loved and cared for by her partner and her foster family.
The family interested in adopting her has met her and can’t wait to see how she fits into their family. With their travel plans over the holidays we all felt that it was best for Chanel to stay with us until after the new year. So far she gets along really well with their other dog and I hope that this will be a great match for everyone involved. If for some reason this match doesn’t work out, I have had multiple friends say that they would love to adopt her. She is an absolute love and favorite among friends.
Matt and I both feel the experience of getting Chanel back into our lives has been surreal and completely unexpected. We have done everything we can to make Chanel feel safe and loved during this transition period in her life. She has been so easy to have around and we have loved having her. It wasn’t easy giving her up to another family to raise, and now that she is back once again it isn’t the easiest to let her go again. At least this time she will be close by and we will get to see her often and be part of her life.