What Does It Mean To Be A Guide Dog Puppy Walker?

For a year or so you have a 5:30am wake-up call; digging; chewing; that divine puppy smell; puppy cuddles; tail wagging; 2am toilet runs- even in the rain; and a bundle of lovable fluff that is deceptively smart.

Many years ago, there was a woman with a guide dog living in the block of flats my son and I lived in. Chatting to her briefly one day when she was out with her dog, she mentioned how the pups are raised by volunteer families, and it piqued my interest- but I was working full time and puppy raising wasn’t an option.

When I started working from home in 2010, I asked my husband if he would be open to raising a puppy for SAGA, and he said yes.
The following year we applied to SAGA, and a couple of months later they sent a Puppy Development Supervisor to visit us at home and meet us and our dogs and check out the house.
Once we were approved we went onto the waiting list for our puppy, and on December 22nd 2011 I went to fetch Volt, our first guide dog puppy.
I signed our contract at SAGA’s Puppy Block- after we battled for weeks to come up with a name that started with a U or a V (the letter allocated to his litter)- and after an instructional briefing I left with an adorable puppy, an ID tag, two bags of food, and a 67 page manual.

We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into!

It’s a lot like having a new baby in the house, except that your puppy comes with a text book!
If you have any idea how cool it is to have an obedient dog, you’ll know how much work goes into training your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘shake’. Now triple that workload and add to it that you will be supervised to make sure your dog is trained properly, with positive reinforcement! And puppies are a handful, no matter the breed.
When your puppy is awake, it is learning. Not only is there a set of verbal commands (sit, stay, down, off, leave it, come, wait, forward and stand), there’s all kinds of behavioural conditioning they need to learn as well, and this doesn’t always have a command.
As a guide-dog-in-training, your puppy is not allowed to chase balls, bark or whine. He has to wait till he’s told he may eat. He has to be comfortable travelling in a car and must be able to go ‘potty’ on command. He has to be comfortable in any setting – from shopping malls to nursery schools. He has to learn to walk calmly and quietly on a lead, on your left hand side. He has to be taught to WALK (not run) up and down all kinds of staircases. He has to learn not to jump up on people, he may not beg, and he must be taught that noises like thunder and fireworks are nothing to fear. They are with you all the time, they go everywhere with you as much as possible.
And the SAGA PDSs are always on hand to ensure the pups are progressing and you have help if you need it.

And its not just about puppies, you have to be able to deal with people too.
You have to remember that you are unofficially representing SAGA when you are out with your puppy. You have to get permission for your puppy to accompany you to places that dogs may not be allowed. Security guards can be a nightmare, and while some people will call out to your puppy when you’re out together, others scream and jump out of your way as if your puppy is foaming at the mouth!
And people will ask you questions. The same questions over and over again. The most common one being “…isn’t it hard to give them up?”

Yes, it is hard – but you’re not giving them up, you’re giving them back.
There’s no pomp or ceremony, its kept low key and quiet.
You get given your dog’s intake date, you bring your puppy in and you say goodbye.
Hopefully you’ve done all you were supposed to do and your puppy can start its training as a guide dog with the proper basics already learned.
Your dog’s trainer will keep you up to date with your dog’s progress during its guide dog training, but except to meet your puppy’s new owner when they are ready to graduate and start working together, there is a likelihood you won’t see your puppy again.

Its a year or so of very mixed feelings… you want your puppy to do well and take on its life’s purpose with confidence- but at the same time you love your puppy and you devote a lot of time and attention to it, and you miss your puppy terribly when its gone.

Witnessing your “baby”, fully trained and walking in his harness with his new owner is a moment filled with so much pride and excitement you are almost fit to burst.
You have to hide behind trees and cars on the other side of the street so that your puppy- and he is still a puppy at that stage- doesn’t see you and get distracted from his new job!

But seeing your puppy doing what he was bred and trained to do makes everything worthwhile.

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Our second guide dog puppy, Lennox, is almost 11 months old so our time with him is almost up. Our first guide dog puppy, Volt, is working as a guide dog in the Cape, and the two weekend “boarders” we worked with have also qualified – Kenzo as a guide dog in the Cape and Rhody as a service dog in KZN.

We are immensely proud of our puppies, and we plan to raise guide dog puppies for many years to come.

Photos I Found On My Phone…

I haven’t done a post like this since last May, so there are quite a few pictures in this post.

This picture I simply had to stop along the road to take. The late afternoon sun was making the veld grasses all glowy and pink and gold…

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I was astounded by the rice crispy ingredients!

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a peahen and her chick – I’ve never seen peacock chicks

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flabbergasted by the price of Easter eggs!

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miles and miles of electric fence wiring from our garden

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I bought my sweetheart a coffee mug

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I want a mug like this!!

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I thought this was funny!

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there’s a brand new Asterix story!

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Yes. I am a grammar Nazi.

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sitting in reception at my new gynae’s office

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My sweetheart Glugster cuts my toast into all kinds of funny shapes!

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discovered this one Tuesday morning… And we had no spanner!

SPIDERS IN OUR HOUSE AND GARDEN!!!
I always marvel at the colours and patterns on spiders when you get to look at them closely. Its quite spectacular.

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Red Spot Hairy Field Spider

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a Daddy Longlegs with her egg sac

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Spitting Spider

It Was Time.

I finally went and saw a shrink.
Its been many years since I was last on any kind of anti-depressant medication, and back then I was a single mom and I had a lot of crap on my plate.

I have normal, “every day” stress just like everyone else. My version of it includes:

  • parenting my adult, special needs son who refuses to acknowledge that he needs any kind of treatment
  • worrying about cash flow (AKA  petrol money and groceries)
  • trying to eat properly
  • procrastinating and making more work for myself
  • procrastinating about seeing to my own ADHD…
  • and…
  • and…

Then late last year there was some serious family kak that caused a rift in my family. My extremely close, any excuse to spend time together family. That rift stresses me beyond comprehension and it contributed to a knot of nervous tension that has not dissipated in months. It reached a point where I was crying all the time – for everything.
Except when I was with my Glugster. He is my happy place, my rock, and he keeps me sane. He cooked and cleaned when I was not able to muster the energy to get out of bed.

So I found a psychiatrist who was nearby (and contracted in) and went to see her. She was not at all happy and she wanted to admit me for a week! On her depression rating I scored a 9 out of 10! We chatted for a while- when I wasn’t bawling- and I like her.
She sent me for blood tests to make sure everything else was as it should be (my hopelessly under-active thyroid is a problem), and she wants me to see a psychologist to talk about things she thinks I need to deal with – like the recent family drama. She also thinks I have not properly dealt with losing Nathan…

She prescribed a month of Nuzak since its something I used before – that worked – but I wanted something that didn’t affect mine and my Glugster’s love life in any way, and many ADs do.

So just after 7am this morning, I swallowed my first Wellbutrin. Apprehensively I must add. I’m sitting now waiting for side effects… She also gave me Xanor to take “if I need it” because stopping the Nuzak may make me feel anxious…

I’m a little nervous but I don’t know if its the lack of Nuzak or the new meds…

Birding!

So if anyone was wondering about the birds we have seen in our garden, here’s a list!

  1. Glossy Starling (not entirely sure which one though…)
  2. Olive Thrush
  3. Burchell’s Coucal
  4. Muisvoel
  5. Grey Loerie
  6. Hoopoe
  7. Hadeda
  8. Cape Robin
  9. Cape White Eye
  10. Common Bulbul
  11. Black-collared Barbet
  12. Crested Barbet
  13. Masked Weaver
  14. Cape Wagtail
  15. Amethyst Sunbird
  16. Thick-billed Weaver
  17. Cardinal Woodpecker
  18. Black-headed Oriole
  19. Fiscal Flycatcher
  20. Red-billed Wood Hoopoe
  21. Red-headed Finch
  22. African Paradise – flycatcher

The trees in our garden are amazing for birds! And the dilapidated water feature outside our bedroom is a huge draw card.

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fledgling Hadeda

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Black-headed Oriole

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fledgling Muisvoel

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Fiscal Flycatcher – often confused with the Fiscal Shrike

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I think this is a fledgling Thrush… But I’m not entirely sure

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Cape Robin, one of a pair that nests next door but forages in our garden

Bird Watching In Our Garden…

We are loving our garden!

I have always been an avid birdwatcher, picking it up from my daddy darling when I was growing up. When my Glugster and I started seeing each other he started getting into it too.

Now we’re both keen and always on the lookout for birds. Our garden is perfect! We’ve listed 22 different birds since we moved in in July!
A few weeks ago, we noticed a pair of Hadedas building a nest in a MASSIVE tree in the garden behind ours.
This particular tree is always full of birds – hadedas, doves, starlings,thrushes, loeries… I’ve even spotted a Cardinal Woodpecker hammering away at the tree’s bark!
I was keen to see if the Hadedas- whose nest is a ridiculously flimsy mass of sticks and twigs, would lay any eggs at all. We’ve been watching them but they’re watching us too, and until early January we weren’t sure of there were any babies at all.
Then we spotted one chick! Its beak wasn’t as long as mommy’s but it already had the distinctive white stripe on its cheek. It made the cutest little chirruping noise while rattling its beak on mommy’s beak to get her to feed him.

Over the next couple of weeks he (or she) grew quickly and started venturing onto the branches next to the nest, and gradually testing his wings and moving around in the tree.
After a few days of him trying his wings I couldn’t see him anymore, but I could hear his little chirruping whistle as he continued to call to his parents for food.