Written by Amie Chapman
Every puppy raiser gets asked, “Is it hard to give them up?” The answer is an emphatic yes.
After 12 years and 15 puppies, I can say that it doesn’t get easier after all this time.
Tonight as I write this, my house is much quieter, favorite toys are laying still, and I have much more personal space because a familiar presence is no longer here. Today was the day that I don’t look forward to as a puppy raiser—the day I have to say goodbye.
I’m sure every puppy raiser handles returning their dogs differently.
For me, the emotions begin the day that I get the notice telling me that my puppy is no longer a puppy and the school wants them back for formal training. I start thinking of all the “lasts” that I want to do with my puppy, and each puppy’s “lasts” are different because they all have different personalities.
Getting ready to return Patrick was no different.
I got my letter, shed a few tears, and started planning our last month together. We did all his favorite things and even asked him what he wanted to do with the help of Pet Chat Mary. He requested going back to the redwoods, seeing the ocean, more cuddle time, having the opportunity to be the center of attention at an event, and going back to Universal Studios.
We made all of that happen for him.
We took a nice long hike in the redwoods; he was on cloud nine with happiness that day. For seeing the ocean, we took him on a whale watching trip. He wasn’t really a big cuddler so that request surprised me, but the last few weeks we had with him I did notice him wanting to cuddle more. I entered him in a costume contest for Halloween, where he was dressed as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He loved being on the small stage and having the moment to be the center of attention. And the day before he was due to be to returned we flew down early and spent a few hours at Universal Studios.
Of course we added a few things on our own list.
I wanted to do a few special outings that I thought that Patrick would enjoy. We went to Pier 39 in San Francisco, and Alcatraz. Patrick even helped me give my very first lecture about proper service dog etiquette in the veterinary clinic to a group of veterinary technician students. Matt’s biggest thing was to give Patrick lots of playtime, his absolute favorite thing to do on the planet. We even stopped at a park on the way to the Guide Dogs of the Desert campus to let him have one last chance to play with us.
With all of our other puppies with were close enough to drive them back to the campus.
The process went a little like this. Have a fun last morning with the pup, drive an hour to the campus, walk to the kennels, check in, say a quick last goodbye, and hand the leash to the kennel tech (I just couldn’t be the one to put my puppy in the kennel and have them watch me walk away) and watch as our puppy walked away to start the next phase of their journey. About 10 years ago, I did a working interview at Guide Dogs for the Blind for a kennel tech position, so I had an opportunity to see first hand how the dogs live while they are in the kennels. This experience made it a lot easier for me not to worry about my puppies as much when they went in for training. I knew they would be okay.
With Patrick being the first puppy I have raised for Guide Dogs of the Desert, I wasn’t sure how the process would go. We were invited to a turn-in luncheon where we got to meet other raisers who were also saying goodbye to their pups. These were going to be some of Patrick’s classmates. The rest of his future classmates had arrived earlier—either their raisers did not wish to attend the luncheon or the pups were transported to the campus for them. We had lunch, talked with the other raisers and had a chance to talk with some of the kennel staff. They answered any questions that we had about the next stage our dogs were about to embark on. We also received a certificate of thanks and an adorable baby puppy picture of Patrick.
After we were all done eating and talking we then were asked to walk our dogs out to the vans waiting outside to drive the dogs over to the kennels. I took a moment to give Patrick one last hug and kiss. I told him to behave himself, listen to his trainers, work hard—and if he really wasn’t happy and didn’t like what he was doing to tell someone to call us and we would come get him. I walked him to the van, asked him to kennel in (he hopped right in like a good boy), removed his collar and leash, closed the door, and said goodbye and I love you.
The Unknown can be hard.
I know that Patrick will adjust and do well, but not knowing exactly what his life will be like during this next phase has me worrying about him. The staff at the GDD kennels is great and I know they will take great care of him, but being an overprotective “mom,” I won’t stop being concerned about him until his future has been decided. He will go through medical and behavior evaluations first and then it will be decided if he will become a member of the school’s breeding stock or continue on into harness training.
Patrick is one of the hardest goodbyes I have had to do.
I have always been a retriever person, and thought that raising a shepherd might be easier to let go. I was so very wrong. Despite being the most challenging and exhausting puppy to raise yet, he won my heart. Just like Patrick, I, too, will be going through a life adjustment and my heart is feeling broken. But I, too, will be just fine in time. There will be another puppy in my future and I’m sure I will fall in love with the next one too. As we like to say: “In every service dog beats the heart of a puppy raiser.” Just like all our previous puppies, Patrick will always have a piece of my heart.