The Hero Dog Award is down to its final two days, and at last count, Viola the Seeing Eye dog had slipped to second place!
Viola is the recently retired guide dog for my friend and fellow puppy-raiser Jordan Ortiz. Jordan attended all four years at Rowan University with Viola, and the adorable golden retriever was at her side when she graduated. Jordan, who now works at Rowan, has a new Seeing Eye dog named Hilton, and Viola lives with them as their treasured companion.
Here's a great article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explaining all about Jordan, her best friend Danielle Larsen, and Viola. If Viola wins, the Seeing Eye gets a $5,000 donation for its amazing mission.
This is the big news we've been anxiously awaiting the last month! We just heard back from the Seeing Eye that Sparkle has passed all her health checks and other screenings, and is now being assigned to a trainer. Hooray!!
The formal training to be a Seeing Eye dog has begun. First, she'll work with a trainer the next few months, and then, when a suitable match is found, she'll be assigned to a visually impaired person who needs a new guide dog. It may be a first-timer, or someone whose dog has retired and needs a new one. Either way, Sparkle is about to make a wonderful difference in someone's life. When Sparkle graduates from her training, we'll be invited up to Morristown to discreetly observe her "Town Walk" as she leads her trainer all around the city streets.
Another update: Viola, the retired guide dog belonging to Jordan Ortiz, is leading in her division in the Hero Dog competition. There's still time to vote, and you can cast your ballot once every 24 hours with the same e-mail address. On her Hero Dog profile page, you will see the button to "Vote for Viola." http://www.herodogawards.org/vote/?nominee=15446649
With Sparkle back in training (and no word yet from the Seeing Eye), I took a break from the blog, with a weeklong vacation and the excitement of daughter Betsy's final college selections. We took the train up to Providence earlier this week, and she has since committed to Brown! So the puppy has gone back to "college," and the puppy-raiser will soon venture forth on her higher education as well. Thank goodness I still have old Porter around!
On another happy note, my puppy-raiser friend Jordan Ortiz has entered her recently retired Seeing Eye dog, Viola, for the Hero Dog Award. You may remember that Jordan graduated from Rowan University last year, accompanied all four years by her adorable golden retriever. Jordan also raises Seeing Eye puppies with the help of her close friend Danielle Larsen, who is legally blind but does not make use of a guide dog.
Here is an excerpt of an e-mail from Jordan:
That bittersweet moment arrived for us at 10:20 this morning, when the Seeing Eye area coordinator arrived to fetch Sparkle for training.
Sparkle was bright and eager, hopping lightly into the minivan, joining another puppy already inside. She looked fit and athletic. With a hug and a pat, I wished her success with all my heart. I'd just taken her for an extra-long, 90-minute walk with Porter, luxuriating in a cool and poetic kind of spring morning.
We gave her our love and the best guidance we knew. In a few months, she'll be the one doing all the guiding -- for a person who needs her more than we will know.
We're headed on Sunday down to Wheaton Village in Millville, N.J., for a puppy outing at the fun-filled Paws for Art day. There will be a Seeing Eye puppy demo at 11 a.m., and the pups will begin arriving at 10. It's free and you can even bring your own dog along!
This will be Sparkle's last outing with us before she goes back to the Seeing Eye for training on Tuesday. So if you'd like to meet Sparkle, or any of her puppy pals, head on down to Wheaton Village. Sparkle will be wearing her green vest, and we'll be strolling the grounds at least part of the day. I'll be wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of a German shepherd puppy saying, "I wanna be a Seeing Eye dog when I grow up." (Unless it is raining too hard.)
I'll be sure to post pictures, and of course, I'll give you the scoop on Sparkle's big send-off.
The gorgeous spring weather was beckoning us on Sunday, so after lunch we set off for the grand old seafaring town of St. Michaels, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay.
With light out-of-season traffic, we made it there in just over two hours and breezed into a parking lot right down by the water. Betsy then took Sparkle on a brisk tour around town, starting at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum . We didn't go inside, but strolled around outside, then headed past the docks into the charming downtown.
Sparkle was moving superbly. She's calmed down a lot in the last few weeks and is reliably obedient on the leash. She made numerous street crossings and investigated some things (like a stuffed giraffe) that she hadn't seen before.
We drove up to Newark on Sunday for a very special Seeing Eye Night at the Prudential Center, where the Flyers took on the Devils. Except for the Flyers' loss, we all had a fine time and Sparkle clearly enjoyed watching the action both on and off the ice.
The Seeing Eye hosted an information booth on the main concourse, under a colorful banner, and its trainers were on hand to greet fans and answer questions. There were also several dozen Seeing Eye pups on hand, getting some great exposure to new experiences.
Sparkle behaved superbly. She wasn't flustered by the crowds and rode the elevator calmly up to our seats. We had some very steep steps to navigate to get to our seats, which were in the second row in the upper balcony. Sparkle paused at the top to get her bearings, then calmly took the steps one at a time till we reached our row. The seating was very tight, but she tucked herself under my seat and popped her head over the seatback in front of us. Luckily, the seat directly in front of me was empty, and the three youngsters in front of us were delighted to have a pup as company.
Our area coordinator from the Seeing Eye sent me an e-mail the other day, mentioning among other things that the pups in Sparkle's training class will begin going back to Morristown the week of March 19! We're very rapidly getting down to the end of our puppy-raising with Sparkle, and the time has just flown by.
A lot of thoughts are going through my head. First of all, she's been doing very well lately. At the puppy meeting last month, she was quite obedient and willing to please in all the training exercises. She is exuberant and excitable, yet calms down quickly when working on the leash. I can definitely see the outline of a guide dog taking shape right in front of me as we walk.
And of course, for all my brave talk about how we will be able to give her back, it is always wrenching. I just told Josh, our 5-year-old, that Sparkle is not staying with us and has to go off to do a very important job for someone who is waiting for her. He just shook his head. I don't think he believes me, or can even comprehend what I'm talking about.
Porter, our former Seeing Eye pup and close companion to Sparkle, has had a weight problem for years. At his previous check-up a year ago, his weight had ballooned to a scary 91 pounds. So it was a happy surprise last week when he weighed in at a svelte 74 pounds! I knew he had been slimming down, but I was truly impressed at how much he'd lost.
No doubt it's largely from trying to keep up with Sparkle, our frisky Seeing Eye pup. They romp and play and chase each other every day, and we've been taking long neighborhood walks every morning throughout this blessedly mild winter. We've also had better success in keeping Porter from swiping the people food.
It's great to see a dog who's about to turn 8 in May so energetic and happy, thanks to our girl Sparkle.
We took Sparkle bowling Sunday afternoon (actually Betsy bowled and I handled pup and camera). It's a regular outing for the puppy club, and we all had a fun time. Betsy had been once before with the pups; this was my first time.
As we entered, amid a tight crowd, Sparkle was overexcited and trying to jump on people. I'm working to bring her into public places deliberately and carefully, making her sit while I open the door and keeping her on a tight leash. Still, her behavior when we arrive at public places is pretty much over-the-top.
After we found our lane and got together with the group of about a dozen other pups, Sparkle began to settle down quite nicely. The bowling itself went great. She wasn't scared of any of the noise and didn't try to run after the ball or people who were bowling.