Friday, April 29, 2011

A Different Kind of Happy Ending

It's been a couple weeks now since I got the call from my leader that Don was career changed. It came as such a shock; after passing phase 8, being deemed class ready, and performing as the 'demo dog' at a GDB graduation, I had little doubt my big boy would be up on the stage in a few weeks... but things didn't work out that way. Hearing that news was devastating- I felt drained and exhausted. I couldn't think of anything but the words career change over and over; it was all over- Don wouldn't be matched with a blind person, Don wouldn't change someone's life, I wouldn't get to hand his leash over or watch him walk off guiding someone...
But as my mind cleared up, as the reality of things set in, and as things got a little less muddy, I saw the "woulds"... Don would go on to change someone's life (and already has :D ), Don would be happy, Don would continue to be a positive example of, and advocate, for GDB, Don would being doing what HE loves and what HE wants to do, and that Don would make a very good pet for someone. And when I found out who that someone would be, I couldn't have been any happier.
At first, Don's career change was upsetting. It was hard news to hear. GDB said he was inconsistent with dog distractions- some days he was perfect, and others he needed a strong handler to stay in line. In the end, it was Don who decided, he decided guiding was just a little too hard, and that's OK.
I didn't reach the ultimate goal. The truth hurts like crazy, that Don will never be a guide dog. But I know that the process of raising Don was success in itself.
I'm so proud of Don- he passed his tests, he was demo dog.. I couldn't be happier with the effort Don put into his training. These past 6 months, as Don rose higher and higher on the phase report, picturing him working in harness always brought a smile to my face. Though I never saw him training at GDB, I know who Don is, and I know how hard he always tried. What I asked from him wasn't easy, and I could tell that he was giving it all he had. I couldn't ask for any more than that.
Sometimes things don't go as expected- it is heartbreaking to let go from the dream of Don up there on the stage at GDB, harnessed next to his new blind partner, but I need to move on. I didn't have the experience of giving a guide dog to someone firsthand, but Don's impact on me and the community is just as important. Maybe this experience of letting go is just as important. When I think of Don, I think of the strapping big boy who was always up for learning something new, I think of my classmates who continue to ask about Guide Dogs and getting involved, I think of the disabled man who shook my hand, who's "thank you" was the most touching I've ever heard. Don didn't need to become a guide dog to impact everyone around him- all he needed was to be himself- whether that was a guide or pet.

You don't always reach your ultimate goal. Don helped me to understand that. Don was so so close, and I am SO proud of him for that. He didn't become a guide, but I've realized that raising him was a lot more than that. He taught me how to teach, how to work hard, how to face a challenge, and I'll love him forever for that.
The choice to have Guide Dogs place Don was a difficult decision. I am so grateful for GDB and their placement department, because Don ended up exactly where he belongs. Last week, I reviewed news that Don was adopted by an instructor at GDB! I was ecstatic. A person who works at Guide Dogs, has an active lifestyle, and owns another CC guide dog, I can't think of a more perfect home for this dog. Today I received news from her about the new member of their family- Don. As I read about him going to work at GDB everyday, playing with his new doggy friend, and doing his "happy dance" for breakfast, I can't imagine a better home and life for him.

The end to my journey with Don was different than expected— but it is just as perfect. I think of Don playing with another dog, being an "ambassador" for GDB as a career change dog, and loving life as a pet dog... I can't even describe how happy I am to know that Don is where he belongs. Thank you Guide Dogs, thank you to Don's new owners, and thank you to all of you for your continuos support throughout our journey. I have my fingers crossed that I will be started the journey with another new puppy sometime soon!
Don as Demo Dog at a Guide Dogs Graduation :)