Could you take ownership of a cute cuddly 10-week-old puppy, love and train it for more than a year, spend practically every moment with that dog showing it the wide world around you and then just when it is starting to shake off the puppy playfulness, give it back?
That is what happens nearly 200 times a year at Southeastern Guide Dogs. Volunteer Puppy Raisers are responsible for giving Southeastern’s guide dogs the solid base on which a world class dog grows. But they don’t always start off at Southeastern as Puppy Raisers, sometimes they get eased into the position. Shay Doerner and her family are the perfect examples.
In 2005 Shay and Brian Doerner were looking for a pet to grow up with their three kids. Having heard about Southeastern Guide Dogs’s public adoption program for dogs that have been career changed, they quickly put themselves on the waiting list, which, at the time was quite long. Shay also heard about the opportunity to be a Breeder Host for Southeastern’s cream of the crop, so she put in an application for that as well.
It took a while, but they finally got the call and welcomed breeder, Janie, into their home. It would seem that fate stepped in a bit to lead Shay to becoming a Puppy Raiser. She credits the breeder host of the sire of Janie’s first litter for getting her involved in Puppy Raising. Through that friendship between breeder hosts, Shay got a lot of questions answered and some misconceptions cleared up and in 2007, she picked up her first puppy, Annie.
Annie made it through the Puppy Raising program, but when she came back to campus for formal harness training, it became evident that she was really meant to be a therapy dog. In Shay’s words, “Annie wanted to help more than just one person.”
After Annie, came Hannah. Hannah was sponsored by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and thus got to be in attendance at one of their rousing shows. According to Shay, she did great right up until the end when the pyrotechnics and fireworks went off, and really, can we blame her? Hannah is now working as a guide dog in Port Orange, Florida, providing the independence and mobility for her handler.
Molly B came after Hannah. Molly B was career changed and despite being adopted out, Brian gets to see her just about every day, as it was his boss who adopted her.
The Doerners also “finished” a couple of dogs, Mandy and Saudi. Puppy Raisers are sometimes called upon to complete the training for a dog if there is some reason their original Raiser couldn’t or if after being returned to campus it is decided that the dog just needs a bit more polishing before the real training begins. Mandy, it seems provided some comic relief in the house.
Mandy was with the Doerners over the holidays and as Shay was busy preparing Christmas breakfast, Mandy took an unexpected trip in the pool (if you have been reading this column, this story may sound a bit familiar – if not, read the post about my Thanksgiving houseguest). Brian quickly got her out and dried her off a bit and put her in the yard to continue drying. Instead, Mandy decided her lovely pale yellow coat could use a mud treatment and proceeded to wallow in the only bit of dirt in the yard. So, Brian then got to spend Christmas morning giving the dog a bath.
Puppy Raising is not just up to the parents in the Doerner household. Nick, 14, Brittney, 12 and Matthew, 9 all play a part in each dog’s upbringing. Matthew actually learned his left and right from using the commands for guide dog training. Brittney attends every Puppy Raiser meeting, and Nick, it would seem, could get a gig as spokesman for Southeastern Guide Dogs with his vast knowledge and outgoing personality. While some would think it hard for the kids to give up a puppy after putting so much effort into its training, the Doerners seem to have the right attitude. Whenever someone says something like “your dog is beautiful,” they respond with “thank you, but she’s not ours, she’s going to be a guide dog one day.”
The family is now in the midst of raising 4-month-old Proxy, or as Shay refers to her “our little troublemaker, but we love her to bunches.” She’s been challenging, but there’s no doubt that with this family in charge, she’ll come around, just give her about a year.
As for the Doerners, they have found great purpose in Puppy Raising, they have become more selfless and less self-centered. Shay says “when you see one of the puppies that you raised, all grown up, and leading a student, it’s the best gift I could ask for. It gives me chills every time I think about it!”
If you think you might have what it takes to join the ranks of Southeastern’s fantastic Puppy Raisers, go on-line and complete an application or give Puppy Raising Services a call at 941-729-5665.