Each year, there is a gathering where volunteer puppy raisers near and far converge on the sprawling, manicured campus of “puppy central” (aka “The Seeing Eye” headquarters in Morristown) to celebrate a common bond: the experiences of puppy raising.
While at this event, it dawned on me that becoming a new grandparent in the past year seems to have influenced me in ways which I hadn’t fully realized, as I found many of the conversations eerily similar to those you would have when discussing grandchildren. Asking someone, in passing, about their puppy risks a wallet being whipped out at lighting speed, followed by a rapidly unfurling, fanfold array of plastic protected photos. These then uncoiling like a spring-loaded slinky suddenly set free and headed for the ground, and revealing a “one-cuter-than-the-next” collection of furry little faces and stories to go with them. As I stood there listening politely, I was also thinking (again, like a grandparent) “yeah, but mine’s cuter” and tempted to bring out my own pictures (the puppy raiser/grandparent equivalent of “game on!”)
In addition to pictures and stories, there were shirts with logos of the various clubs connected with The Seeing Eye. Many of these bore lists of names (and sometimes photos) of various labs, goldens and German shepherds prominently displayed. After all, these were graduates at the “Princeton” of a dog’s world; these were the names of dogs (raised by these proud volunteers) who had graduated The Seeing Eye!
In addition to the uncanny grandparent similarities, the day brought lots of fun, fellowship and learning, including chances to exchange tips and stories with other puppy raisers about dogs past and present. As well as opportunities to be better foster families with counsel directly from Professional Seeing Eye trainers.
As a grandparent (or parent), how nice would it be one day to sit in an audience and hear how those we have helped to bring up with love, care and patience have gone out into the world to “pay it forward” with others? Seeing Eye puppy raisers get to hear directly from members of the blind community who receive life changing levels of assistance daily through their Seeing Eye dog.
Future beneficiaries of Seeing Eye’s dog guides also include high school and college-bound students. In a video presentation, it was touching to see the student’s faces light up as they realized how going from canes to Seeing Eye Dogs, represented for them a profound increase in the level of independence and dignity.
To me, it is an interesting concept that puppy raisers (through their common interests and experiences) are a sort of family. And, those who raise service animals worldwide are all members of one big extended family. Yes, Family Day 2007 at The Seeing Eye was a wonderful thing; but it left me wondering. Will there ever be a formal association for grandparents? And, a grandparent appreciation day? I still need all the help and advice I can get there, too!