Sunday, August 19, 2007

Family Day - August 18, 2007

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!”)

Of course, realistically, we all think our own puppy,er uh, grandkids are the cutest or smartest or whatever; its our nature. But the truth is, they’re all equally special in their own right and what makes them characteristically unique to us is our own investment of love and pride in them. Throughout the day, there was certainly no shortage of either in evidence.

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.

It is true that every child (or grandchild) isn’t destined for Princeton. Similarly, it is also true that not every dog raised will make the cut as a working Seeing Eye dog. This could be for a myriad of reasons; but what was encouraging to raisers (and especially pleasing to hear during one of their presentations), is that a percentage of those who don’t “make the program” go on to successful careers in K-9 squads, helping law enforcement with various tasks. In fact, over 124 have done so since 1993.

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!


Anonymous said...

Hi Brian and Trish,
I've been reading the blog. You guys are something else. How many of these dogs have you raised so far? Keep up the good work!
Viv and Joe

valerieguenther said...

I loved the picture of Willow at the mike with the headphones on....Soooo Cute.....Family Day was wonderful. It is such a magical place up there..

Sarah and Romeo said...

Can I add you to my blog? I'm a puppy raiser for KSDS and I have a 19 month old MBL
Let me know by visiting my blog