I’ll do almost anything for the sake of my dogs.
This year, I’m giving up something I love dearly: raising service dogs. When we started raising puppies for service work back in 2001, I was a newlywed. I’d never owned a puppy ever and was a relative newcomer to the organized, specific training required of service dogs.
The second puppy we raised, Lily, our sweet now 13-year old, didn’t make it through the service dog program — and neither did the next two puppies we raised (Tango and Nemo). In the span of about three years, we went from one dog to four dogs! It was a fun time — we had a houseful of young dogs and always had a puppy in rotation. The dogs enjoyed the puppy, they helped raise him, entertain him, and teach him dog- and people-skills.
We hummed along happily, raising and loving the latest service puppy in training.
Over the years, our lives changed. I quit my Federal job and started Smart Dog University. I loved the job of puppy raiser. A new puppy every year, watching those young dogs learn and grow and turn into fabulous working dogs who were worth their weight in gold. I enjoyed every aspect of puppy raising, even house training.
“Puppy Raiser” became who I was.
It’s what I did. It became part of my identity. I was the “lady with the service dog puppy.” Raising a puppy didn’t slow me down, personally or professionally. I showed up for meetings, conferences, seminars, and talks with a puppy in tow. Often, I was the presenter and the pup would be my co-presenter. I don’t think people knew my name, but recognized me because of the puppy who was always with me, rain or shine.
Over the past few years, as our dogs grew older, we began to realize that our dogs seemed to be enjoying the puppies less. I still loved puppy raising, but our dogs didn’t think too much of it. They were snippier, it took them longer to accept the newest addition, they played with one another less, Tango wouldn’t chase his ball if the puppy was nearby… It was an endless number of things that had crept up on us silently, but once I noticed it, there was no denying it. Our dogs were done with puppy raising.
After Levi’s turn-in, I had a lot of travel on my calendar. I wasn’t going to get another puppy for at least three months. Good, I thought, this will give me a chance to see how our dogs do in a puppy-free house. The change in our dogs was clear after the puppy left. Overnight they began to play more, wag more, have more energy. They seemed happy to be retired from puppy raising. Lily, our matriarch, is thrilled with the decision. Tango loves our afternoons in the backyard now, where he can retrieve his tennis ball without being chased by a puppy, and Nemo has sole custody of my husband’s lap every evening.
If they’re happy, I’m happy.
Do I miss raising a puppy? You bet! But, my dogs have worked hard for 13 years raising pups — they’ve earned their retirement, I think. We’re now walking together every day, I have a chance to teach them new skills, and we have the time to just hang out under the shade tree together, enjoying this lovely spring here in the mid-Atlantic.
It’s taken a few months to get used to not having a puppy with me. I’m no longer “the lady with the service dog puppy,” and I’m a lot more ok with that than I thought. It’s likely that we’ll raise a puppy again, but not while we have our current menagerie. Hopefully, it’ll be quite a few years before we get back in the puppy raising routine, no matter how much I love it. Having my dogs happy and carefree is a little more important to me.