Dorian and Carlene are now a fine twosome. And I couldn't be happier. But let me back up. Everything has been a whirlwind lately....
DORIAN ON A BILLBOARD. REALLY!
About three weeks ago, furiously packing for my visit to see Dad in California, I get The Call. You raisers know the one. My Area Coordinator, Joyce, announces the news Dorian has been matched! I am almost speechless, partly because my brain is stuck on a checklist track thinking about all the things I need to take to California:dog treats (check), Piper's rabies certificate (check), 3-day supply dog food (check, check, check). So it is difficult to switch tracks and I am not prepared.
And yes, I admit, this news grieves me just a little. This is surprising, since it is the goal all puppy raisers diligently strive towards, and then wait expectantly for word on. I ask you, what could be better than learning your puppy has become a guide dog? Though my intellect knows this, my heart sings out the tiniest swan song, "Oh Dorian, this is really good-bye," that is drowned out in the realities of preparing for PR Day.
DORIAN AT FIVE MONTHS.
When your puppy is matched, the raiser and immediate family members are invited to Southeastern Guide Dogs for Puppy Raiser Day, where you and several fellow raisers have the opportunity to meet their pups' new partners, watch them work a route together, visit, take pictures and have brunch. It is a wonderful, heady morning full of laughter and tears. Yet you are given only two week's notice, so it's a mad scramble to plan the logistics of a 750-mile trip to Florida.
Still surprised over the news, Piper and I spend the next ten days in California enjoying my Dad. Three days after our return to Virginia, Sam and I (and Piper) make the 14-hour drive to Florida for Puppy Raiser Day in the '96 Volvo station wagon.
At Puppy Raiser Day several moments stand out sharply. As we watch from a distance, Dorian appears around the side of the building, guiding Carlene. He stops at the road crossing and lifts his head. Listening, searching, sniffing for a new disturbance, looking for the source, Dorian is alert. He spots our group of raisers, half-hidden behind the foliage, trying to be quiet and not disturb the teams' concentration. I am so proud of him, I could bust. Maybe he is just curious but I sense, at least in part, he is looking around and taking stock for Carlene's welfare. With Carlene's prompting Dorian moves on at a steady pace.
TRAINER JOE, CARLENE AND DORIAN DOING A ROUTE.
Dorian stops at another curb. Ridiculous as it sounds, his stop holds great significance. My puppy stopped at the curb! Goofy, silly Dorian, my clog - part clown, part dog, dubbed my Peter Pan Puppy because I would ask myself a thousand times, "Will he EVER grow up?" Now he is stopping at a curb for someone who needs his eyes. Irrepressible silliness is replaced with solid, focused responsibility. And she trusts him to keep her safe. It is a powerful, beautiful thing.
Later Carlene, Dorian, Sam and I have a great visit together on a bench under the trees. Dorian remembered us immediately, which I knew he would. Dogs do not forget. I love Carlene's energy, enthusiasm and sense of humor. She is so right for Dorian, who exemplifies these traits as well. And I like the way she brags on him proudly, yet later, sensing him wiggling after an acorn, insists he mind her. Blind from birth, she has had several guides over her lifetime. I like that she is experienced, which complements Dorian's tendency to be a tad headstrong. We discover she lives with her adult son, who "has a way with animals", and a pug named Max. Again I am pleased - Dorian will be a part of a household. Southeastern Guide Dogs has done a fine job of training and a fine job of matchmaking.
We swap stories, laugh and talk about our favorite subject, Dorian, of course! Carlene has decided to keep the long version of his name - Dorian, rather than Dori. Although the sponsor named him after Marine sergeant Dorian who was wounded in Afghanistan, the sponsor asked the name be shortened to Dori. As his puppy raiser, I preferred the more masculine-sounding Dorian, and Carlene feels the same.
Too soon the time is up and we say our good-byes. Dorian will be flying home next week with Carlene to Rochester, New York. She was worried about whether he would like snow, which unlike Virginia, comes in feet, not inches. I assured her that Dorian as a puppy loved playing in the snow. Also his two plane trips with me should hold him in good stead guiding her home. We hug a long moment, then away they walk. Together.
Dorian, the day you left my care I prayed you would fly to new heights. Now I am filled with gratitude and the absolute certainty you have! May God bless you and keep you, both you and your fine new partner, Carlene.
WE VISIT PAT ALLEN, TOM AND HER GUIDE DAVE, WHO WE RAISED IN 2008-2009. DAVE IS 5 NOW, AND HE AND PAT WORK AS A DOCENT TEAM AT THE SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM IN ST. PETERSBURG, GIVING ART TOURS. SHE SAYS THEIR TOUR IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR AT THE MUSEUM.