Written By Amie Chapman
On November 4th 2016 we turned guide dog puppy Patrick in for formal training and breeder evaluations. A few months later we were informed that he was not going to be either a guide or a breeder for the organization, that he was placed in another line or work. We were not told what type of work or any other information about where he was sent, or what was in his future. For me as a puppy raiser it was the absolute worst news I could have been given.
For anyone that isn’t familiar with what a puppy raiser does, here is an overview. A puppy raiser takes in a baby puppy for a service dog organization and teaches it the basics. Potty training, basic obedience skills, house manners, and socializes it to the outside world. Then, when an organization feels that they are ready for more advanced training, they are returned for formal training with professional trainers.
First thing to know is that a puppy raiser is a volunteer, probably one of the biggest commitments of any volunteer position. Most volunteer positions a person does when it fits into their schedule. They can choose how much time they want to commit to the position. For a puppy raiser the time commitment is 24/7 for usually 12-16 months. We got Patrick when he was 10 weeks old and returned him when he was 18 month old. So he was with us for 16 months, with the exception of him being away for 3 weeks for an evaluation. That is a time commitment of 61 weeks, that is 427 days, or 10,248 hours that either Matt or I were in charge of his care. That is a huge time commitment.
Second a puppy raiser often pays for many things required for the puppy during the time it is with the raiser. Each organization is different on what coverage of expenses they may cover for their puppies. In the case of Patrick we covered all expenses. While he was in our care we paid for his food, vaccinations, other medical care, toys, collars, flea and heartworm preventative medications, travel to and from the organization for initial pick up, evaluation, and his final return.
Third, raising a puppy is a big emotional commitment. These puppies are with their raisers almost all the time, they are rarely left home alone. It is very hard not to get attached with the amount of time a raiser spends with the puppies. I for one probably get too attached, to all the puppies I have raised. I watch them grow up before my eyes. Cheer for them when they learn something new or do something right. For me I learn something new from each puppy that I have the privilege to work with. Patrick was my 15th puppy to raise and one of the hardest to give up.
This is a lot of time and money to donate to an organization. As with most volunteer positions it isn’t money that a person is looking to gain in return for the time and energy put into their position. For me as a volunteer my return is knowing that what I did made a difference. With other puppies when they graduated and I had a chance to see them guide their visually impaired partner. I had a chance to sit back and watch, and tell myself…wow, Matt and I helped make this happen. Look at our dog go! There is a huge feeling of pride. Then there are the dogs we raised that didn’t make the cut and go on to work. Those dogs we had a hand in placing. We had a chance to see the lives of the families that adopted them change and the joy that their new dog brought them. That is all I really want in return of all that I give. To see my puppy happy and healthy with whoever they end up with.
When we didn’t get our usual return with Patrick I took to writing a blog about how it affected me. Now social media can be both and amazing place to get your story out, but can also be a place where you can get criticized. I got both. So many people reached out both publicly and via private message to give me support. I was really surprised by it. Probably the biggest surprise was the number of people telling us about how they too were puppy raisers and had a similar story. It was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. But I was also criticized a bit. One person in particular told me that I was only seeking attention, that I knew what I was getting into and I was being ridiculous. I was told that the person that received Patrick wanted to remain anonymous and that I wasn’t being respectful. Yes I knew that I would be raising a puppy that I had to give up, but I was never told that there was a chance that I would not know the outcome of that puppy.
I wasn’t sure if anything would come of my blog with finding Patrick, but as chance would have it, my blog did reach someone who could help connect the dots for me. Shortly after my blog went out I got a private message from someone who had no affiliation to any of the organizations involved with Patrick’s placement. She gave me a lead to a facility that trains police dogs and they had on their website a profile of dog that matched our Patrick. On that profile it also said where he was placed. I was in shock that someone had been able to find him and was willing to share it with me.
So we have had an idea of where Patrick was for a year and a half now, but we were just recently able to confirm it. He was trained for police work. I’m sure that there are many people asking “why did you take so long?!” Well the truth is…I had no idea if they department who had Patrick wanted us to know that he was there. Afterall we were told that the recipient wanted to remain anonymous. But was that the facility that he went to to train for his new career, or the department that eventually received him? We had no idea if we contacted them if we were invading the privacy of the department or his partner. We didn’t want to be seen as crazy stalkers.
We recently decided to take that chance and see if the information we got was the real deal. We took a chance at attending a K9 trial and hoped that Patrick would be one of the competitors. The department we thought he was with was listed to be there. The gamble paid off. There were many dogs there, but not every dog from the department we went to see. We did see a dog that looked and acted like Patrick. Both Matt and I were pretty certain it was him, but he had a different name.
This is probably a big surprise to most people who follow us, but both Matt and I are pretty shy with people we don’t know. Neither one of us wanted to approach any of the officers there to inquire if Patrick was in fact there. We were in a little bit of a difficult situation. Here we were at an event where the officers were concentrating on the events they were doing with their dogs. It was open to the public, but we didn’t want to be a nuisance. We had never been to an event like this and had no idea if inquiring about a certain dog was acceptable. At one point we were thinking about leaving, but we had driven well over an hour to get there and devoted our day to watch the trial.
Matt finally got up the courage and did approach an officer from the department. He had one of our Patrick trading cards and showed it to the officer. I hung back because I was super nervous about how we would be received. I didn’t want them to think we were ambushing them, or that we were crazy people. The officer did confirm that the dog we thought was Patrick was there and was super nice and called the partner of the dog over. That officer was also very nice and saw Patrick’s card and said yes, that was his dog. He knew that his name was Patrick, but had been renamed.
All the officers were extremely nice. We were given an opportunity between events to say hi to Patrick. Everyone wants to know if he remembered us, I’m pretty sure that he did. We got lots of tail wags, but Patrick seemed to be very focused on his handler…and the toy he had on him. While some people might have been disappointed that our reunion wasn’t more exuberant, I wasn’t disappointed at all. We came at a time when Patrick was on duty. He was definitely in work mode and that made me proud. He was happy to see us, but ready to go to work. We had no idea if we would be a huge distraction for Patrick and cause him to not do as well as he could at the trial. We absolutely didn’t want to be the cause of him not being his best.
We stayed a little longer and watched Patrick compete and cheer him on in the final event of the trial, the apprehension phase. I was a little surprised that he had learned bite work, mainly because he was such an outgoing and super friendly guy with people. I never thought he would want to bite, or if he did that it would change him. Well he did a really good job at following the directions his partner gave him, I was super impressed. I didn’t notice much of a change in him at all, he was still a friendly guy with people and his partner even shared some adorable photos of him saying hi to some of the people and kids in their community. So those fears went out the window very quickly.
While we were there we occasionally got pointed out to some of the officers in the department and were introduced as Patrick’s raisers. We had some fun sharing some of the goofy photos we had taken of him as a puppy. We even had a good laugh when I shared photos of Patrick’s first halloween and him being dressed up as a cop. Every officer we spoke with had nothing but great things to say about Patrick. It seems like he is very well liked throughout the department, of course that makes us feel wonderful. Other people love and care for Patrick as much as we do.
Right before we headed out from the trial we gave Patrick’s partner his favorite puppyhood toy, his frisbee. We had brought it with us just in case we ran into them. Patrick’s face lit up when he saw his old toy, it was the exact way I had imagined handing that toy over. We actually have a box of frisbees in our garage somewhere that we had saved just in case we made contact with Patrick’s new partner. We may have to go searching for those.
Now you may be wondering why I’m still calling Patrick, Patrick, and not by his new name. Because we surprised the department at the event and we haven’t had a chance to form a real relationship with them and discuss how much they want us to reveal about Patrick, we have decided not to reveal his new name or what department he is with. Patrick belongs to them now and we need to be respectful to that they should be able to make these decisions about him. This is also for Patrick and his partner’s safety. Patrick now works in a very high risk field. His Partner has enough to worry about every time they leave their home for work, we don’t want them to have any further stress.
We have no idea what type of relationship we will have with Patrick’s new partner, it is completely up to him on if he wants to stay in contact with us. Of course we hope that we can have some sort of relationship, but time will tell. I can say that Patrick couldn’t have been placed with a better person. He seems to have a perfect understanding of who Patrick is and embraces it. Patrick seems to absolutely love his job and his partner. Everything we were trying to tone down with Patrick as a puppy he now is encouraged to let out. He has found the job that he was meant to do. It took us two and a half years, but we can now sit and watch our puppy work and say, “That’s our boy, we helped him become the dog he is today.” Patrick didn’t become a guide dog to help one person stay safe, he is now helping to keep an entire community safe. We are now his biggest fans from the sidelines. And just like every other person that receives a puppy we raise, we are always here for Patrick’s partner if he needs anything.