From Puppy to Guide: Meeting Lacey’s Puppy Raiser
How does a cute, fluffy puppy end up acting as a person’s guide? The process is much longer and involves many more people than you would expect. I always knew there was a long process a puppy goes through to become a Guide Dog, but I wan’t aware of the details. When I was asked whether I wanted to make contact with Lacey’s puppy raiser, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to find out what Lacey was like as a puppy; her personality, her quirks and things she was familiar to like toys foods or places.
Generally, a Guide Dog Handler (that’s me) can choose whether to make contact with their puppy raiser and then the puppy raiser can opt to get in touch. For me it was a no-brainer; of course I wanted to meet the person that raised Lacey for the first year of her life. I also was itching to see cute puppy photos of her. After my initial training period I sent Lacey’s puppy raiser an email and waited for a response.
Thankfully, Lillian contacted me back and was excited we had made contact. Lillian has been puppy raising for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT for over 10 years and I was the first handler to contact her! I was shocked at this information and knew I had to meet up with Lillian so she could see the outcome of her hard work, love and generosity. We set up a time to meet at a cafe and planned to take Lacey for a run in the park.
The first reunion
I was curious to see how Lacey would react – she hadn’t seen Lillian for almost 12 months since she left her home for training. Lillian was waiting at the front of the cafe as Lacey and I came around the corner, Lacey in harness. I could tell she had seen Lillian as she did a slight skip before remembering she was in harness and working. Once we sat down, I let Lacey relax so she could say hello to her first mum and give her a nuzzle. She totally knew who she was!
The second reunion
After our first catch-up, we arranged to meet again for Christmas. This time Lillian met us at home so Lacey was not in harness and ‘working’. As Lillian came up our stairs, Lacey struggled to contain her excitement with her tail wagging faster than the high-speed of a windscreen wiper. Since she is so well behaved, she waited for me to command that she could run up and say hello. She galloped down the stairs and stood on her hind legs (she absolutely never does this) to reach up and give Lillian a big hug and smooch. Then she started to cry in happiness and excitement. It was the most beautiful thing I have witnessed. She absolutely knew who Lillian was.
From Puppy to Guide Dog
So what is the process Lacey underwent to get to me? Well after she was born she was puppy raised by Lillian until she was about 15 months old (she was there about a year). During this stage, the puppies learn all the basic commands – sit, stay, lay/down, quick quicks (command to toilet). It is the puppy raiser who begins to instil the good behaviour. For example, Lillian did a fantastic job teaching Lacey ‘gentle’ when she takes treats/food; Lacey is patient and takes the food ever so gently out of your hand and doesn’t even leave a lick behind (she’s perfect I know!). The puppies also socialise and integrate into the community, you may sometimes see puppies in training wearing a little t-shirt identifying them. Lacey was taken to shopping centres and to church (which I hear she absolutely loved sitting up the front dozing to the band!). The puppies become comfortable in a variety of situations. Lacey was also lucky enough to have a big sister, Fleur, who she snuggled up to and no doubt made her so at ease with my dogs.
After the puppy raising period, Lacey began training at the Guide Dogs HQ in Glossodia. Here is where she learnt the advanced training. She was in the kennels for around six months before completing her training and graduating (star pupil I might add). I learnt that Lacey may not have made it to be a Guide Dog as she was being considered for their breeding program. I am so grateful she got to come to me because she is seriously my perfect match.
I received my phone call late April 2016 informing me they had found a match, and the eager wait to meet Lacey began. After training she went to a temporary carer for a few weeks as we waited for our training to be set up, before returning to the kennels in Glossodia for a few preparation days before coming to her forever home at the end of May 2016. In total, Lacey has moved six times to get to me. These dogs are truly incredible!
The love and affection that a puppy receives when they are young shapes the type of companion they will be in the future. I am so grateful to Lillian and her family for raising a beautiful, gentle, caring and loyal soul who makes me smile and gives me confidence to face a situation less than ideal. Her calmness and solidarity has helped me through some extremely tough times recently.
To all the volunteers and staff at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT – your work is incredible and to think that more than 95% of funding comes from fundraising and the generosity of the community is mind blowing for what is an essential service for people like me living with vision loss.