Today's post is a very bittersweet one. For those of you who have been following me for a while, you may remember that I have been raising a puppy for The Seeing Eye in Morristown, the oldest guide dog organization in the United States. She is a black labrador retriever named Pebbles and was placed with me on Valentine's Day 2012.
The puppy raising program at the Seeing Eye just celebrated its 75th anniversary. Puppies are placed with a family at 8 weeks old until they're between 13 to 15 months of age. During the time they're with their family, they learn all of the basic commands (forward, sit, down, come, rest, and come and sit), as well as house manners. We're also responsible for desensitizing them to all circumstances they might encounter as working dogs, including places like the movies, sporting events, the mall, and a bunch of other places. On Saturday, we even went to Newark Airport, where we went through security, the terminal, and a United Airlines plane. Pebbles and I thoroughly enjoyed our fifteen minutes in Business Class!
In the beginning of February, I was notified that Pebbles would be called back to The Seeing Eye in March for her formal training with an instructor. So long as she passes a medical evaluation first, she will be placed with an instructor to teach her the more advanced aspects of her training. She'll learn how to walk in harness and how to guide, including how to watch for obstacles and guide her person around them.
This morning, Pebbles returned to the Seeing Eye. I will receive postcards, updating me on her progress throughout her formal training. The final postcard will (fingers crossed) let me know that she has passed through the entire program and that I need to schedule a town walk. A town walk means that my family and I will walk around Morristown and watch Pebbles guide her instructor in harness. We will have to stay at a distance and unfortunately, don't get to interact with her. But we will be able to ask her instructor to take our camera and take a picture of her in harness.
Today is inevitably a bittersweet day for me.
I received Pebbles while I was still a senior at college. She was with me when I got my first acceptance letter to law school and when I decided where I would be going in the fall. She taught our family dog, a then-five-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever named Dakota, how to get along with other dogs, a feat that is much grander than you could possibly realize.
She spent the summer taking long walks with me around the neighborhood, enjoying the air conditioning in my car, and keeping me company while I was outside gardening, although she sometimes ran off with my shovel in an attempt to get me to play. And she refused to follow Dakota into our swimming pool, lest she get her hair wet.
And when I started law school in August and was so frustrated throughout my first semester that I often found myself calculating how much of my tuition could be returned if I dropped out, I always came home to find Pebbles wiggling with excitement as I walked through the door. No matter how many questions I got wrong in class or how lost I found myself in Contracts, she didn't care. To her, I was Mommy and the greatest, most fun person in the entire world. (Even when my fall grades came back in January and confirmed that I had NOT bombed spectacularly and in fact, was pretty good at the whole lawyering thing… she loved me just as much.)
I know that Pebbles, with her wiggles and goofiness and love for all toys she can carry around by their beaks/ears/noses, has such personality. I swear that sometimes, when she is praised for being a good girl or getting belly scratches, she opens her mouth in a way that looks like a smile. And because of that, she's going to fit in with anyone the Seeing Eye matches her up with.
But that doesn't mean I'm not going to miss her. She was my first puppy I raised for The Seeing Eye, though she likely won't be the last, and she helped me through the hardest, most stressful year of my life. Now that she's going back to Morristown to join her brothers and sister (all seven of them!), I realize that I needed her just as much as she needed me over the past thirteen months. More than I ever thought I would.
It will be hard to come home from class and not find two dogs waiting for me at the door. Or to go to my bedroom and find an empty space where her crate used to be. But I know she's off to do something wonderful and change someone's life just like she has changed mine. And that someone needs her more than I do now.
The way I've begun to think about it, in a very offbeat way, is that it's like the dynamic of Doctor Who. The Doctor always has at least one (sometimes two) companions on his travels. They usually start out immature and insecure of their intelligence, but with the help of The Doctor, eventually realize what makes them special. At some point, all companions must leave his side, but they do so with a new outlook on life. And someone else comes along to travel with the Doctor, also in need of an adventure and his tutelage.
While I do not have the audacity to refer to myself as the Doctor in this situation, I realize now that this is similar to how the puppy raising program works. Pebbles must move onto bigger, better, and far more important things than being my companion. And though I'll miss her, it's time for me to bring a new companion home and teach her all that I can on our adventures.
Still, I'll always miss and think about the little squirmy puppy that started it all and helped me to realize that I am, in fact, the person she always thought I was.