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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Confessions of a Puppy Raiser: One Year Ago

A year ago today Hilly had her last evaluation with my CFR, Jim. I don't think I've ever really posted about what happened that sealed Hilly's fate as a Career Change. When I last posted about Hilly's last eval I sort of fudged the truth a little. I didn't lie...I just didn't tell the whole truth.

Note: This is a long post. If you get half way through it and think "This is long!" it's because it is. So,
you've been warned.

We had just gotten back into town after being in Ashland, Oregon for a little over a week for the Shakespeare Festival. When driving to the eval I thought that my part in Hilly's training was over. That no matter what, I could not influence her future in the Guide Dog program. Mostly because, I knew what the outcome of the eval would be.

As always, I arrived early. This time though, I didn't just allow and extra ten to twenty minutes to allow me time to find a parking space (sometimes the parking is REALLY bad). Instead, I got to the mall about half an hour early. It only took me ten minutes to find parking, but after that, I just sat in the car with Hilly. I knew I would need this time. At some point I started to cry. Not the deep shaking sobs that would come later that day, just silent tears. Mostly, they were of frustration and anger at myself. Like I said, I knew what Jim would say...even if he didn't know it yet. As I was sitting there starring at a tree, I felt Hilly stirring next to me (the back seat of my little Mini Cooper was a little messy so Hilly was on the floorboard in the front seat). I looked over and saw her resting her head between the gear sift and the emergency break like she always did. But this time, instead of sleeping, she was looking up at me. She was bored. Bored of being a Puppy in Training and ready to move on. And she was tired. Tired of me trying to make her into something she wasn't. I invited her up on the seat which she cautiously took; always prepared to for the set up she was. When she was eye level with me I told her how proud I was of her and held her for just a little while.

It took me about fifteen minutes to compose myself so that I could walk in through the mall doors with confidence. (It just wasn't time for everyone else to know.) So, even though I arrived half an hour early, I was pushing time a little when I finally found Mary and Jim. Before Jim started asking about Hilly, we all took a walk. Now, some people get really nervous around Jim, but I don't. I hadn't been nervous at an eval since my very first one. But I was on that day. It's ture that Jim is kinda a grumpy gus sometimes and he is pretty "strict", but he's a really good CFR. He doesn't make snap decisions and trusts the puppy raiser's judgement on their own puppy. Anyway, we finished the walk and went back to the food court.

That's when Jim started grilling me on Hilly. I told him all of her wonderful qualities and about the HUGE progress she had made since she came off the puppy truck. Then he took her from me and checked how she was with handling and how she walked on a flat leash. She did great during both. Then Jim brought her back to me and I put her back in a down under our table. That's when Jim surprised me and said something like, "She seems all ready so I'll just put her on the next recall in two weeks." He started scribbling her recall date on his sheet of paper as I sat there momentarily in shock.

What happened next was kind of like an out of body experience. Remember, I was pretty sure my part in this little show was over; that I wouldn't have to say anything. My spirit...or the part of me that wanted nothing more for Hilly to go back in for training floated out of my body and was forced to watch in horror. Forced to watch as the words came spilling out of my mouth. Those words that I never thought I would have to say.
"I can't let you do that Jim..."

Jim and Mary both looked a little surprised...I guess I probably did too. I had to tell him about how Hilly was unreliable, how she talks to you when she sees a dog, and how she was great with GDB pups but not with strange dogs. I spoke fast and didn't meet his eyes. I didn't want to have tell him what had happened in Ashland. Luckily, I didn't have to. He agreed with me that dogs that were exhibiting her kind of behaviour couldn't usually make it to being a Guide Dog. And with that it was done. My spirit watched as Jim changed "Recall" to "Career Change" and it sort of whithered. He told me how he never thought she would ever get to the point she was at now and said that if she had one more month he thought I could get her further. I'm pretty sure he meant it too. Jim doesn't just throw around compliments. Even still, my confidence had vanished.

Then we left. I cried. I cried hard. We sat in the car for five minutes before I thought I was safe enough to drive. I think Mary knew something happened in Ashland because a week and a half later she asked, "What happened in Ashland?" I guess she knows me and how I wouldn't have ever taken her off of a recall for anything less than something horrible happening.

So, here's how I knew what would happen at that meeting. I didn't want to be the one to say it, but I knew that she wouldn't be going back in for training. In Ashland, there is something called "the Green." It's a square patch of grass in between the three theaters where there are free shows before the ticketed shows begin. Since it's outside, people are allowed to bring their pets and are always quite a few dogs out there enjoying the sun and being able to get out of the house. We found a nice place on the grass away from dogs which Hilly had maneuvered around without too much fuss which made me pretty proud. We'd been watching for about half an hour when it happened. Hilly had been doing so good all day and she was just lying on my left dead asleep, so I let my guard down just a little and enjoyed the show. All of a sudden I felt a pull to my left and I was suddenly lying on the ground. Hilly had apparently lost her little labby mind and was going nuts, but I couldn't see why right away. Hey! I suddenly found myself starring up at the sky instead of at the musical performance. I quickly pulled her back to me and put her in a restrained calming sit. This means that her body was in my lap, one hand was under her resisting chin, and the other was holding her body so that she had my body and my hand pressing on their side of her. I somehow managed to breathe calmly until Hilly was under control...which took a good five minutes. At that point I asked my mom what had happened and she pointed to the left. A new dog had come and sat about five feet away from us. My heart kinda broke right then and there, but there was still a little hope left that it was a one time deal and I could just overlook it. I set her on my right and didn't have an issue the rest of the night. Unfortunately, that incident made her take ten steps back. She was whining harder and louder than ever when she saw another dog and she had started to lunge again. She had given up and, to be honest, somewhere in that week and a half I did too.

Ignoring dogs just isn't who Hilly is and she made her choice. I would have been a bad raiser to have ignored it.

I'm still hurting from it a little. My confidence hasn't completely come back as a puppy raiser and I second guess myself more often than I should. That will come back with time and possibly another full time puppy. There are even still times when I wonder if I made the right choice to stop Jim. Of course these times usually come right before Hilly does something incredibly stupid that reminds me why she should never ever be in charge for someone else's safety.

Hilly still talks to you when she sees a dog she wants to say hi to. She still thinks that stalling cars are the coolest thing ever and will jump up and down and all around to see if they'll play with her. She is still stubborn about sniffing something until SHE is done sniffing it. Now, I'm still upset that she didn't make it, but I'm more happy that she's mine.

1 comment:

  1. Doesn't it feel better to let that all off your chest? Don't beat yourself up about it - you advocated for Hilly and that's what good pet owners do. Yeah, with it comes a huge sense of disappointment and loss (despite getting a great pet). But, you listened to her and that's what she needed you to do! Happy 1 year anniversary with Hilly girl (as a pet) may it be many many more!


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