Written by Amie Chapman
Raising guide dog puppies has been a lifestyle choice for a little over 15 years now, and I absolutely love being a puppy raiser. Each puppy I raised I fell in love with—how can you not? Many of them broke my heart, but it always healed with the help of the next puppy and the new friends I made with the placement of each puppy. I became accustomed to the process of falling in love, the heart breaking, the heart healing, and starting all over again. Going through the process so many times, I never thought that my heart would break and have a hard time recovering. But it did happen, and it caught me very off guard. I am usually an emotionally strong person, but I am still having a hard time dealing with my emotions.
This is a very personal blog, and because of this it is a long one and I apologize for that. There is a good chance that I may ruffle some feathers or make some people upset by sharing my feeling and thoughts. That is the last thing that I ever wanted to do. But hopefully by opening up and sharing it will help close this chapter in my life and I can move on.
Matt and I have gone back and forth about the right way to update people on what happened with Patrick. It has been extremely stressful for both of us because we take what we do very seriously. We have chosen to share our experiences of being puppy raisers for the world to see and with that comes a big responsibility of being good role models and being good representatives of whatever organization we are raising for. Hopefully after people read this, they will have a better understanding of why we have taken so long to finish our episodes with Patrick and why we have struggled with how much we wanted to share and how to go about it. So here goes.
With each puppy I raise, I know going in that they are not meant to be my forever dog when they grow up, and I’m okay with that. I have to be. My sole job is to prepare that puppy to be a service dog for someone who needs it. I raised 14 puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) before I decided to try raising for another organization. The full circumstances of this decision I haven’t made public, mainly because it is complicated. Yes, raising for another organization was a great opportunity and I got a chance to raise a German Shepherd, something I have always wanted to do. But the other reason was that Matt and I wanted to continue documenting our journey with our web series, Growing Up Guide Pup.
After filming two seasons with puppies from GDB, the executives there decided that we were no longer allowed to film their puppies. I can’t really go into details about this decision. I really didn’t want to say anything about this publicly. I was really worried that some of our more active supporters would be upset, even angry, with GDB about their decision. Negativity towards the organization or bad blood between us was the last thing I wanted.
Matt and I were forced to decide between staying with an organization that we were comfortable with and had had great puppy raising experiences with, and ending what we had started with Growing Up Guide Pup, or moving on to a different organization and continuing to move forward with our web series and creating our non-profit organization. We had received so much great feedback from guide dog users and puppy raisers from all different organizations. We get lots of messages from people saying that they decided to puppy raise or even get a guide dog because they saw our web series. This is not only rewarding for us, but very powerful to hear that we have had that type of influence on people. We felt like we had a purpose and really wanted to continue, so we made the hard decision to leave GDB.
Changing organizations was hard, but also exciting and a little nerve wracking at the same time. I was very excited to raise a different breed and learn new things, but nervous to move outside my comfort zone and do it without my usual support group of other puppy raisers, leaders, and my amazing field representative. I give them so much credit for making me the puppy raiser that I am today. I was also very nervous that we would lose the support of the GDB puppy raising community because we changed organizations. Would they still follow and support us in our journey? In a way I felt like I was abandoning my family. I do feel like we lost some people, but we gained more from other organizations.
We received a very warm welcome when we started working with Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD) and we were very excited to work with them. The first part of our puppy raising journey with them was great and I was really happy, but the ending didn’t really go as we expected. We thought that we were all on the same page, but somehow our multiple discussions about how important it was for us to be able to track Patrick’s progress from beginning to end were pushed aside and the communication wasn’t what we had hoped for.
During my time raising for GDB, I was always given great feedback about how my puppies were doing and kept aware of anything that might change with their status of becoming a guide. GDD’s way of communicating with me was very different and I had a very hard time adjusting to that. This was a big reason why we chose not to raise another puppy for them when we turned Patrick in for breeder evaluations/formal training.
Not taking another puppy to raise from GDD was surprisingly stressful for me. We were asked the day we turned Patrick in if we wanted to take another puppy—there were multiple puppies in the kennel needing raisers—but we wanted to set up a time to talk and work out some concerns and kinks that we had. But that talk was never set up or brought up again. I kept seeing emails come through and posts on social media about how they were desperately in need of raisers. I felt very guilty and selfish about not helping them in their time of need. We were perfectly capable of taking on another puppy, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Their way of doing things just wasn’t a match for us as raisers. They had been absolutely wonderful about letting us film Patrick and a really good fit for the show during the time that Patrick was with us, but not so much for us as individual raisers and our needs emotionally. As important as our show is to us, it isn’t everything. We need to be happy and comfortable with what we are doing.
Two months after we turned Patrick in, we requested an update on him, We wanted an update we could share on social media because we were getting asked almost daily about how he was doing. We had asked if we would be able to get updates on Patrick while he was in formal training and we were told that it shouldn’t be a problem, but this too seemed to be forgotten.
We were told that he was being pulled for breeding pending final health evaluations. I was both very surprised and troubled by this. He was amazing physically, but had issues mentally. We had been very honest that Patrick struggled with a dog reactivity issue, but weren’t fully honest with how severe it was at times. We got enough negative feedback from viewers and readers about him being dog reactive that I felt compelled to protect GDD from any negativity we were bringing on by sharing our experiences with Patrick.
We spent a lot of time working with him on this issue. We had never raised a puppy with this type of issue before and there was a fair amount of trial and error in how we handled it, and what worked best for us and Patrick. He was consistently very inconsistent about when he was reactive. Some days, he did really well around other dogs, and other days it was a struggle for him and us. Even the day before we turned him in, he barked at two separate dogs at the airport and two more dogs that we came across at Universal Studios. In my world, this was absolutely unacceptable for a service dog, or a behavior that could potentially be passed down to future service dogs. I had always felt deep down that there was no way he could become a guide dog because of this, but that was not for me to decide.
Dog behavior has been a big interest of mine and whenever I go to veterinary conferences I will usually try to squeeze in a couple of lectures on behavior. My gut feeling was that Patrick’s dog reactivity was a part of who he is and that was why he struggled to control it, not because I failed as a raiser. However, for a very long time I blamed myself for his behavior (and still do a little bit), thinking that maybe I just wasn’t a good enough raiser to work him past his issue or that I didn’t raise him correctly, didn’t do enough to work through it and perhaps even contributed to the issue. But because we had documented our time with Patrick, I was able to see that this issue was there when we brought him home as a 10-week-old puppy and I did the best I could with what was given to me.
“I worried that if Patrick was bred and his puppies inherited his issue, future raisers would have the same stressful experience I did and those puppies would also have the same stress that Patrick experienced.”
Patrick is an amazing dog and had all the qualities a person would look for in a service dog. First, he loved to work and was always ready to go. He was super smart and learned quickly. He had a lot of energy, but was very good about settling quietly and being patient while out in public. Physically, he is a beautiful dog, a really nice size and build. For these reasons, I can see why they would want to carry on these traits. But in my opinion I would not want to risk reproducing to the reactivity issue.
As his raiser it was very difficult to handle. I was always hyper-vigilant about watching for other dogs so I could be prepared to deal with Patrick if they appeared. I started being stressed out about it, and Patrick was also visibly stressed about it too. He tried so hard to keep his cool at times, but failed. He would get frustrated with all the corrections needed to try and keep him under control as well, but this was how I was instructed to handle it. I worried that if Patrick was bred and his puppies inherited his issue, future raisers would have the same stressful experience I did and those puppies would also have the same stress that Patrick experienced.
I did express my concerns about breeding Patrick to a few people at GDD, but they didn’t seem to share my concerns. I was a little frustrated about how my concerns were received, but what do I know? They have been breeding dogs for a very long time now and I have never bred a dog in my life. I just had to accept that we had a difference of opinion and as a raiser I have absolutely no say in the decision making of the puppy I raised.
Once again, we had a major dilemma. The people following Patrick’s journey were anxiously waiting for an update, but we just couldn’t share that Patrick was pulled for breeding. I was really hoping that they would see what I saw and change their mind. Because I was open about his dog issue, I was very worried that other people would question the decision like I did, but in a public forum.
Once again we didn’t say anything publicly. I didn’t want Growing Up Guide Pup to cause anyone to think negatively about the organization, or for the organization to think that they received bad feedback because they let us film Patrick. The last thing I wanted was for our reputation to be tarnished, and for other organizations to think that we, as GUGP, caused people to think badly of the organizations that we raise for. After all, if we hadn’t shared Patrick’s dog issue, there would be no one questioning whether or not Patrick should be used for breeding. We were in a very tough spot: we could upset our followers by not saying anything, or upset the organization by bringing them bad PR.
I was told that GDD was over 90% positive that they were going to make Patrick a breeder. I was just starting to come to terms with this when we got a phone call from the head of their breeding department saying that Patrick was no longer part of their program. This was not the news we were expecting to hear. I thought maybe when I saw their number pop up on my phone that they had decided against breeding him and were putting him back into training. We were not told anything about why this decision was made.
With every other puppy we have raised that was released from GDB, we were told exactly why that decision was made. When we were told that Patrick was going into another line of work, I wasn’t surprised, but I was curious to know what would be next for him. When we had our house check by one of their trainers before we got Patrick, we were told that the majority of the dogs in their program that don’t make it as guides go on to do other things. I completely understood this and I was fine with Patrick doing other things if that was what was best for him. After all, that is what is most important to me: that the decisions made for the puppies I raise are made in their best interest. But nothing was said about what they thought was best for Patrick, just that he was released and going into another line of work.
More news that I was not prepared to hear was that we wouldn’t know where he went or what type of work he would be doing. The person or organization he was sent to wanted to remain anonymous. This was very difficult to handle. We had never been made aware of this as a possibility, not before we got Patrick, during his raising, or after his turn-in. If this was explained to us in the meetings we had with GDD before we brought Patrick into our lives, I might not have made the decision to raise for them. I was not mentally prepared for this at all. I feel like he is lost. He could be anywhere now.
I know where every other puppy I have raised has ended up. Some of those dogs I still have a relationship with and get to see at times, and some I have not seen since I turned them in for formal training. I am at peace with this because I know exactly who they ended up with and what they are doing. I have closure.
“People say that what I do as a puppy raiser is a very selfless act, but I don’t do it just to give back. I get so much in return for doing it.”
With Patrick, I have no closure, and I am still struggling to move on in my life. I feel like we have let down everyone who followed us with him. We brought many people along on our journey and they too fell in love with him, just like us. They too want to know what happened with him. Without closure, we have failed as story tellers. Frankly, we are not only hurt by this but embarrassed as well—we should have done better. We should have had some sort of contract in place to guarantee that we had closure to our story, but we were just too trusting.
I have fostered so many animals over the last 18 years that I have lost count. I have loved each and every one of them, and have cried tears of sadness when each one of them have left our home and moved on from my care. But I know that because I let them go, a spot in my home opened up for the next animal in need. As far as the puppies in training go, I am just a stepping stone for them. Yes, my heart breaks when they leave, but I know that they are destined for someone else and my heart heals quickly once I know what happens with them and have that closure.
My heart is still very broken after Patrick leaving us, and at this point I’m not sure it will ever fully heal. I struggled with what happened so much that I was considering giving up being a puppy raiser. I just couldn’t go through it again. When we first got the news, I struggled to focus at work, struggled to sleep. I was a mess and just felt lost.
People say that what I do as a puppy raiser is a very selfless act, but I don’t do it just to give back. I get so much in return for doing it. I get to have a new puppy in my life almost every year—yes, I have a puppy addiction and this is the healthiest way to feed it. I love that I have made and continue to make so many great connections with other people. And nothing can take the place of the way that I feel when I see the bond between a puppy I have raised and their forever person, whether as a service dog or as a beloved pet. The fact that I helped create that relationship makes my heart whole. Sharing stories with the people who have my dogs is and will always be one one the biggest rewards of puppy raising for me.
With Patrick, for the first time ever I feel like I have lost a puppy. He has just disappeared to me. There is no happy ending, no seeing that bond between him and whoever he ended up with, no potential of a new relationship, and no shared stories to be told. For the first time ever, I was asking, “Why am I doing this to myself?” For the first time ever, I didn’t want to raise again. I had lost a part of who I was and just felt broken.
I thought long and hard about this, and forced myself to try and move on and raise again. I decided to go back to GDB and ask to raise an older transfer dog, a short-term commitment to test the waters again. Because I had always had a good experience and closure with the puppies I raised for them, it seemed like the best idea for me. We understood that this new puppy could not be filmed or be part of any GUGP project. That wasn’t important to me at the time. This puppy had a bigger purpose than to be followed closely on social media. This puppy was to help me decide if I still had it in me to be a puppy raiser.
Raising for GDB again was like going home for a visit after you move out of the house. Cozy and familiar, but not quite the same as when you lived there before you moved out. I was warmly welcomed back by everyone and I was very happy to be back and have the support of the puppy raising group. I am forever grateful for the support I received, but for some reason (the fault of no one but me) I still felt like I didn’t fully belong anymore.
Arturo was a very sweet, goofy, lovable black Lab placed with us for a few months, and it was a huge help having him. I feel like Arturo was a “rebound” dog, just like when you have a bad breakup and you need a rebound guy to help you move on. Arturo was a very helpful stepping stone and I will always be thankful for having the opportunity to be part of his life. He was a really good dog and I made sure he got lots of love and attention, but I do admit that I had my guard up and didn’t let myself fall in love with him like previous puppies.
As much as I wanted Arturo to help make me whole again, he didn’t. To my surprise, it was three abandoned puppies that helped me move on. Bernard, Bianca, and Penny changed my life for the better. I couldn’t help but fall madly in love with them. Their loving personalities and their innocence forced me to let my guard down and I started feeling like myself again. I feel like they were meant to come into my life when they did. Being pulled away from their mother and abandoned at three weeks of age, they needed me. But it took me a few weeks to realize how much I needed them. They distracted me from my heartache and depression caused by losing Patrick and they gave me a new focus. They had so much love to give and such great temperaments that I had felt compelled to see if I could help turn them into service dogs. At the time, I was very unsure if I could actually pull this off, but I was determined to try.
“Every event in life is a lesson, and I have learned a lot over the last year.”
I was not in a hurry to let the puppies go, especially because my heart was still in such a fragile state. But once I found Brigadoon Service Dogs, I started to get excited about the future for the puppies. Matt and I were warmly welcomed when we dropped the puppies off with them and we both felt very comfortable with handing over our beloved puppies to them. We weren’t planning on raising again just yet, but when we saw that the organization was in need of raisers and we were given the opportunity to pick one of the puppies to raise, we had a very hard time saying no. Sometimes opportunities come into your life when you aren’t fully ready for them, but they are right for you.
Penny has been my puppy angel, and working with her and Brigadoon has been helping me more than I can say. I am slowly healing and feeling more and more like myself again. I am not as lost as I once was. After raising our first puppy, I have always felt that I was meant to be a puppy raiser. Penny has shown me that it is still a big part of who I am. A new puppy cannot replace another; it simply takes a different piece of the heart and makes the heart bigger. I will be forever thankful to these three puppies and Brigadoon for showing me that it is okay to love and let go again.
Every event in life is a lesson, and I have learned a lot over the last year. I have learned that thing I love doing the most, can also hurt me the most. I wanted to share my experience not to make people decide against puppy raising for fear of getting hurt, but to help others realize the importance of choosing an organization to raise for that is right for them. Every organization is different and so are people. Just because GDD wasn’t a fit for me, doesn’t mean that they are not a good organization to raise for. I have met many raisers that have had great experiences raising for them. Same goes for GDB—I have always had great experiences raising for them but I know some raisers that didn’t necessarily have that same good experience. Everyone is different and will experience things differently.
I still want to promote puppy raising and encourage others to do it, even though I have been through some tough times. It is still a very rewarding experience and I hope that I haven’t discouraged anyone from doing it. The best advice I can give after everything that I have been through is to make sure the organization you raise for fits your needs and ideals.
Think about it and ask the questions about what is important to you before you bring home a puppy. This may be different for each person. For some it may be about the type of training methods the organization uses, what the organization helps pay for, whether you can have a relationship with the recipient of your puppy, if you must attend puppy meetings, and so on. These are just some questions to think about.
For myself, I now understand that the most important thing for me is to know where my puppy ends up. This is now a new goal of mine: to figure out a way to help people find the right organization for them to raise for. I would love to see new puppy raisers finding an organization that fits their beliefs and needs, and having such a great experience raising a puppy that they want to do it over and over again. There are so many organizations in need of puppy raisers that there is a good match out there for everyone who is interested.
As for me, I think that I may forever be scarred by losing Patrick, I still have days when I really struggle with not knowing what really happened with him. On the outside, most won’t ever really see how much I have really been affected by this, but it is always there. I try to put on a brave smile for people when I’m around them but the tears still come when I’m alone and thoughts of Patrick pop into my head. Where is he? Is he okay? Does he have a comfy bed to sleep in at night? Is someone playing frisbee with him? Is he happy? Does he feel loved? Some days I feel like a big baby for feeling this way and I just need to get over it. Other days I think that I’m really not asking for much to know the answers to these questions.
Hopefully this has shed some light on why it has taken so long to finish Patrick’s episodes and reveal what we know about Patrick. It has been very hard to go through this with so many people following and knowing that we let those people down. I am hoping that sharing my feelings in this blog will not only help with my healing process and also help others make choices that will prevent them from ever repeating my experience.