Raising a Star

Raising a Star

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Raising a Star

From the very first meeting that I attended, I knew that raising a guide-dog puppy was the project for me. My dad had other ideas. He thought the responsibilities required were too much for a sixth-grader to handle. After months of my lobbying, begging, sobbing and working my tail off to convince him, he finally agreed that I could raise a puppy. And so I began my journey as a guide-dog puppy raiser—a journey that lasted six years.

After I turned in my application, I still had a long time to wait before a puppy would be available. In the interim I began to puppy-sit. When the dogs I cared for dug holes in the yard, I thought, Oh . . . my puppy will be different. I was in a euphoric (and definitely ignorant) state. The days seemed to pass so slowly without a puppy to raise.

On Christmas Day, 1992, after all the presents under the tree were unwrapped, I still had the gifts in my stocking to open. I pulled candy, brushes and Silly Putty out of the overflowing stocking, but when I reached the bottom, my fingers closed around something unlike anything I had ever felt in a stocking. It was a piece of fabric. I pulled it out and saw it was a tiny green puppy jacket. Attached to the jacket was half a sheet of paper with a note written on it:

Dear Laura,

You will need this on January 6 when you come to get me in the Escondido Kmart.

I am a male yellow Lab and my name begins with B.

When I finished reading the note, I burst into tears. My puppy! I could hardly wait for the day when I would meet the newest member of my family.

On January 6, 1993, I received my first puppy: a yellow Lab named Bennett. He was the first of a series of guide-dog puppies—Hexa, Brie, Flossie and Smidge, to name a few—that I raised over the next six years. Each of the puppies holds a special place in my heart, a place each won as soon as I saw him or her. Who could resist that small, bouncy bundle of fur placed into your arms for you to love and care for?

I found raising guide-dog puppies to be a deeply rewarding service project, yet sometimes I wondered who was raising whom. Each one of my canine teachers imparted lessons of love, pain, separation, forgiveness and patience. Four legs and a tail motivated me to do things I would have never attempted on my own. And when you know you’ll have just 365 days to spend together, you learn to cherish each moment.

During that year, I organized my time carefully, making sure to include all the required training, such as obedience, grooming and socialization. To help these future guide dogs acclimate to many different environments, I had to take each puppy with me just about everywhere I went, sometimes even to school! I admit that at first this special privilege was the main reason I had wanted to raise a guide-dog puppy, but the meaning of the project grew much deeper as time passed.

The many hours I spent in public with each dog turned out to be a fraction of the time and energy I spentwith him or her at home. It’s then that the individual raiser adds his or her own personality to each dog. In my experience, it was the minute or two that I took before leaving for school or going to bed—just to stop and petmy puppy or tell him that I loved him—that created the strongest bond.

And that love flowed both ways. Every time a puppy would jump up onto my lap and kiss me one last time for the night, I’d forget all about the unhappy manager who threw us out of the grocery store that day, the hole being dug to China in the backyard and the potty calls at three in the morning. It takes so little extra time to raise not just a well-trained dog, but a loving dog—a dog who will bring such light into a nonsighted person’s life.

At the end of the year, it is time for the puppy to leave. The day arrives sorrowfully for me, even though she suspects nothing. The whole day I’m filled with memories of the year we spent with one another: long days at school together, hours spent swimming in the pool and cuddly moments watching TV. But the time has come for the puppy to move on, to do what I have raised her to do. Tears fill my eyes and rush down my cheeks as I say the final good-bye, then take off her leash and hand her over to her new school. Before she even leaves, I miss her, wondering if the important work I have done is worth the anguish. The squirming, brand-new puppy placed into my hands cannot be compared to her. I know I will soon be filled with the same love for this new little one, but I will never forget the one that’s leaving.

For six long months, I wait for her weekly school reports, opening them eagerly when they arrive. Finally, she has made it: she graduates from school and is matched with a blind person.

The long trek to San Francisco would be worth it just to catch a glimpse of her, but I usually get to spend the whole day with her and the person she will help. Before that day, I feel as if no one could deserve her love and affection, but I always change my mind as soon as I meet her new partner.

Seeing them together, once again my perception of the project is lifted to new heights. The puppy who pulled me across the yard is now a sleek, gorgeous, grown-up dog who guides a nonsighted person across the busiest streets in America. They are no longer a human being and a dog, but a single unit that moves with more grace than a world-class ballerina. To know I have been a part of creating this team is enough to erase the last vestige of the pain of missing her. She has a new job now. She has matured from the puppy who comforted me, loved me and was my best friend, to become a guide dog: a lifeline for someone who needs her. And though a single star is missing from my sky, she has opened up a whole universe for another.

Laura Sobchik

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