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In my recent post, A service dog’s job is more than just tricks! I mentioned that I lived with my puppy raisers for eighteen months. I thought it might be a good idea to tell you more about them and a few of the things that we did while we were together. If you have read my book you know a lot about the first couple of years of my life and about my puppy raisers. So some of what you read here may be repetitive of what you already know but I am also going to share a special memory! 

I was born in California and, as I have told you before, I was destined to become a service dog. Remember that ‘destined’ means planned from the very beginning. My journey to greatness began from the time I was born! When I was with my breeder/caretakers (the people who were there with me when I was born) I was beginning to learn new things. Learning important lessons were happening even while I was still with my brothers and sisters! 

Through the organization where I came from, Canine Companions for Independence, a puppy raiser agrees to take an 8-week old puppy and keep them for approximately 18 months. They selflessly give of themselves during that time so that the puppy gets the best foundation possible. A foundation that prepares them for their next step in the journey of becoming a service dog. 

When we were old enough we flew to different areas around the country to be with our puppy raisers. My puppy raiser family was a mom and dad, May and John, and their daughter, Lauren. There were also Lauren’s brother and sister, Drew and Tracy, but I didn’t see them as much. My family lived in New Jersey when they raised me but have since moved. I was the ninth puppy that they raised and they are still raising puppies! 

My puppy raisers taught me house manners, basic commands, and how to behave in public. Being a puppy was sometimes hard work but also lots of fun. I got to go to many different places. Areas that were new and challenging and exciting! Some of the places I went were grocery stores, restaurants, malls, a casino (there were lots of loud noises there but I ignored them!), hotels, movies, and friend’s houses. 

I got to walk on the boardwalk in Atlantic City and go in the casinos!

At first, we just went to quieter places but as I grew and got older we went to places that were busier with more crowds and noises. It was important for me to start out slow and learn how to behave in public before we went to more challenging places. I needed to be exposed to things slowly so I wouldn’t get scared or misbehave because I wasn’t ready.

Do you ever think back over the memories you have from events in the past? A special memory that I have from when I was with my puppy raisers is a trip to Walt Disney World. I knew something big was going to happen because everyone was busy packing and making plans. One day they packed everything in the van and off we went! It was a very long drive but we had been on many long drives before so I was a pro at traveling!

After driving for a long time we finally arrived at our destination. I still wasn’t sure where we were but the hotel was fancy! There were lots of people and everyone seemed happy and excited. After settling into the room we headed out to have some fun! I discovered a whole new place with lots of things I had never seen before. It was exciting. So many people and noises and new sights to see!

Lauren and I tried on some fun hats!

We stayed at Disney World for about a week and we did lots of new and different things. I got to ride on buses and monorails, go to restaurants and shopping in stores, see festive shows and fireworks, and navigate through crowds of people. We had busy days but my puppy raisers made sure to give me plenty of chances to rest. It was a great experience and offered wonderful training opportunities for me to practice my skills and be in new situations. 

I got to meet the Lego dogs and sit with them!

The training I received during the 18 months that I spent with my puppy raisers was similar to the years you spend in school. From kindergarten through high school. Many of you will go off to college after your graduation from high school. I did the same!  I went off to service dog college where I spent nine months polishing up what I had already learned. And learning the advanced skills I needed to be my mom’s service dog. It was a little bit scary to be leaving my puppy raisers but they had prepared me well so I was ready for new adventures.

Have you ever had a classmate, friend, or family member who moved away? Someone that you were close to and had spent a lot of time with. When they leave it can be hard to adjust to having them gone. But you always have the special memories to hold onto and cherish. Plus it can be fun to plan ways you can get together and visit each other. Ways to create new adventures and memories!

The memories of Disney that I share here later led to new adventures and memories. Ones that were created with my puppy raisers after I was with my mom. My mom and dad are huge Disney fans! It was extra special that I had been to Disney when I was a puppy. I was sure that I needed to take my mom and Dad so I could show them everything that I knew! In a future post, I will share more about those new Disney memories that we made together. 

It took a lot of effort on the part of my puppy raisers and then my trainers during advanced training to get me ready for my mom. Before being partnered with her I was working on learning all of the skills I needed and the proper manners that were necessary for me to be an exceptional service dog.

I love my puppy raiser family and it was hard to leave them when I had to go away to ‘college’ but I knew I was destined for more. In my heart, I am filled with a very special love that continues to grow with each passing day! My mom says that puppy raisers make it possible for people like her to get a service dog. My puppy raisers gave her the gift of independence for which she will be forever grateful. And you know what? I am grateful, too!  

Gazing at Cinderella’s castle and thinking about how dreams can come true!