Guest Writer: Terri Binder
This was the advertisement that first got my attention back in 2008. I’d always had dogs growing up and as an adult. As a young girl I’d dreamed of ‘saving’ all the abandoned dogs and supporting them on my farm. But the dream turned into reality thanks to this ad looking for puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB), an organization that breeds, raises, and trains guide dogs for vision-impaired people. I was working full-time back then and asked my manager what she thought about me bringing a puppy-in-training to work. She, being a dog person, was all for it!
Ace, born November 11, 2008, came into our lives in February of 2009 after I took months of classes to learn how to train a service dog. He was a cute little black Labrador retriever, full of himself and ready to explore. My first few months with him were busy with house training, puppy classes, and general puppy mayhem. Like all the subsequent puppies, he had his quirks, but we moved forward with his training.
In a pre-COVID world we went all sorts of places, socializing and acclimatizing Ace to various sights, sounds, smells, activities, and other aspects of everyday life. As he got older and was able to ‘settle’ for longer periods we went into restaurants, on buses and Metro, to the hairdresser, shopping in grocery stores, and to schools, where he got used to kids petting him. He went almost everywhere I went, including the bathroom!! He went to work with me, lying down under my desk. Ace was particularly good at letting everyone know when our weekly project meeting had gone on long enough. What? You said you heard a dog barking under the table?! He converted several of my co-workers into dog appreciators (not quite lovers). Then there was the time on the National Mall in DC at the National Book Festival that the speaker said the same thing – Is that a dog barking? Oh, the stories we have to tell.
Ace and I were a team until he was 1.5 years old. It was a bittersweet email notifying me Ace was scheduled for his IFT (In For Training test). In those days it was unusual for a pup not to pass. Ace passed with flying colors and went on to puppy ‘college’. After 4 months he graduated and went to work with his blind companion in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was sad to say ‘good-bye’ but proud of my boy.
After a little under a year I was notified that Ace had decided he didn’t like guiding and would be retired. His companion related to me a particularly humorous incident that was an example of Ace’s reluctance to work. She was walking through Penny’s around Easter time, guided by Ace. She said she could hear people snickering as she walked by. Not knowing what had happened, she reached down to find that Ace had snatched a pink, stuffed bunny as they walked through the store and was carrying it in his mouth!! Well, not really guide dog etiquette! Would I like to have Ace? Do chickens have lips?!
Our next era with dogs began with a ‘retired’ Ace acting as resident dog and chief snuggler. Ace went on to become a therapy dog and had children read to him in the library. He was very competent at looking like he was interested in the story when he was really sleeping. Ace was also tolerant of the many puppies who came to our house for puppy sitting and eventually puppy raising.
Having had a German Shepherd before I started with GEB, I became one of two raisers in our region who raise German Shepherds instead of labrador retrievers. Our ‘pointy ears’ are unique and just as wonderful as the labs. Now, 14 years and 9 dogs later, the resident dog and chief trainer is Navy, a 3-year-old German Shepherd with his own history of shenanigans. We are anxiously waiting for #10.