Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Ode to Puppy Raisers

I set out two years ago to do something I'd never done before- take an adorable puppy into my home and raise it as my own for a year and a half. Seems easy enough, but here's the catch- I was raising the puppy for someone I didn't even know, a complete stranger. After I spent a year and a half training, loving, and bonding with the puppy, I would give it up for them. When you put it like that, it seems crazy. Who would take on this huge endeavor, fully knowing it would lead to heart break in the end? Puppy Raisers, that's who.

I've learned that it take the right person- a combination of loving, nurturing, steadfast determination, and selflessness- to be a Puppy Raiser. To want to take home an eight week old puppy, get it through the awful stages of housebreaking and teething, devote countless hours to training it, and spend everyday loving it, only to give it up once it has become a solid, dependable adult, certainly takes a special kind of person. I feel honored, for the first time, to be able to say I am one of those people and to now be among the ranks of all of you who do this time and time again. Without you, the magical matching of dog and person would not be possible.

Months ago, I would have said that I was dreading the date of Natalie's Team Training. Back then, it signified our final goodbye. Now, however, I look forward to the second week when I can go watch Natalie and her partner become a true team. Like many of you, I know the initial feeling of sadness and regret when you get that call that your dog has been matched. You know you shouldn't feel that way, yet for that one moment, you get caught up in yourself. But, I also know that in the days after the news, you'll realize that this was your dogs' calling all along. That life as a pet would be mundane compared to the things they'll do with their partners. And that if changing someone's life by giving them the independence they've always hoped for means your heart has to break a little, then that's OK.

I garuntee the day Natalie graduates with her partner I will be a mess. I'll probably go through an entire box of tissues. But now I know that it will be because I am so very proud of her. I was lucky enough to get to meet her partner and his family at the fundraiser. It didn't take long after talking with them for me to realize that this is the perfect match for Natalie. In fact, I'm not sure I could have found a better match for her myself.

The number one question I was asked while raising Natalie was whether I would do it again after I gave her up. I always said yes without really putting any thought into it. Though one would think that the closer I go to having to say goodbye to Natalie, the less I would want to do it all over again, the opposite is actually true. I cannot think of a more rewarding experience than being a Puppy Raiser. Yes, it has its downsides, but when you see that dog who once ate your socks and chewed your mouse cord standing next to the person they were destined to help, that all vanishes.

So, I'd like to congratulate all of the Raisers, Sitters, and countless volunteers who make Team Trainings and graduations possible every year. All of your hard work truly pays off.

To the lucky partners who will receive these fantastic dogs, I wish them to experience the endless love and devotion all of the dogs have to offer. It will change your life as it has mine, and all of ours.

To the dogs themselves, I wish them many carefree days spent working side-by-side with your partner. And I hope you never look back, but you never forget, all the ones who love you in the place you left.