by Lee Juslin
Sue had a successful career as a corporate CPA rising to department head, but when Bain Capital bought out her company, her job, along with those of many of her colleagues, disappeared.
According to Sue, the job paid well, but there was no fun or excitement, so “While I was trying to decide what to do next, I volunteered at Dogs for the Deaf. Though I’d had dogs in my life, I wasn’t really experienced in working with dogs, but I soon realized it was fun and it was what I wanted to do.”
Sue began to search for a paying job that involved working with dogs and eventually found Guide Dogs for the Blind. They are one of the oldest and largest guide dog training organizations in the country, having started just after WWII. They boast a fifty percent success rate, which might not sound like much, but is actually pretty high. Taking the job meant relocating, but Sue didn’t give it a second thought. She packed up and never looked back.
Carson, a big Lab, was on track to be a service dog to the blind, but along the way, it was discovered he had a few behaviors that made him ineligible for the training program. There are a number of behaviors which raise red flags for the trainers and chewing socks is a big one. Visually impaired people often leave socks out and when a dog becomes fixated on chewing them, it becomes an unworkable situation. For the sake of socks everywhere, it was decided that Carson needed a career change.
Sue had been looking for a puppy to adopt and had fallen in love with Labs while working with the puppies in training. When the trainers suggested Carson, it was love at first sight. However, first Carson had to prove he could work into Sue’s schedule. From Thursday through Sunday morning, Sue lives as dorm “mom” in the dorm that is part of the organization’s training facility. During the day, she works in the kennels with the puppies in training.
The dorm houses applicants for the service dogs. Six visually impaired people arrive for a two week stay undergoing orientation and learning to work with their potential service dog. At the conclusion, there is a graduation ceremony that is open to the public where the puppy raisers walk across the stage and present the dog’s leash to its new owner. “It’s a very moving ceremony,” said Sue. “Often there is not a dry eye in the house.” After graduation, the program starts again with six more applicants. Vacation breaks occur only at Christmas and for a week in June.
The program’s administrator was not sure about Carson being in the dorm, because that would take a calm and quiet dog. So, Sue fostered him for a week with Carson living in the dorm on the evenings she was on duty and spending his days in a special kennel for staff dogs. As if he knew he was on trial, Carson adapted well. He enjoyed greeting the applicants and he often curled up under Sue’s desk staying calm and quiet when she left him alone to take care of her duties outside the office. Carson had found a home and a new career.
Although the schedule can be intense, it does allow Sue and Carson to be home from Sunday afternoon until Thursday morning and that’s when Carson gets to be a “real” dog. He’s made friends with Wiley, a Schipperke, with whom he shares a fenced in yard and toys. Together they wrestle and chase giving Carson some good exercise. Sue has also enrolled Carson in a “nose training” class where dogs learn to trace smells under very difficult conditions. “Carson is just in the class for fun. We’re not aiming for him to be a drug or bomb sniffing dog, but, there are competitions and maybe one day we’ll go that route.”
The dorm residents help Sue teach Carson some required behaviors, like not jumping on people when he greets them, but Sue says Carson seems to have outgrown the puppy-ish behavior which so concerned the guide dog trainers. “I don’t tell them, though, because I’m afraid they just might take him back, and then I’d be giving up my best pal.”
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