Several years ago, I was approached by the director of philanthropic giving at Leader Dogs for the Blind. When asked to sponsor one of their future Leader Dogs, I had a better idea. As a company, I wanted to do more than give money and name a puppy. As someone who had been training dogs professionally for over a decade, I thought it would be an awesome idea to actually become a puppy raiser and, through our social media, publicly document the process. Additionally, we chose to create a product line to support the organization and find other corporate sponsors to assist in our fundraising efforts. At the end of the day, the mission was to impact one person through one dog and raise funds and awareness for an incredible service organization. This is my story of my puppy raising fail…
The BOLO Project
We named this campaign The BOLO Project. Over the year, BOLO was well socialized and trained, the campaign yielded funds for the organization, and Public Relations garnered continued to grow awareness for their cause. However, the new responsibilities required to yield the desired results in The BOLO Project and my personal expectations for a successful outcome resulted in a lot of self-imposed pressure.
The service animal industry is critically important. Research and data has shown us the important role service animals have on the lives of people with disabilities or handicaps. The various organizations can’t meet the needs of the animals and people they serve alone, so volunteers and communities offer significant support. As a volunteer puppy raiser for a service animal, the intention is to do good. We all take on the role with the intention of making a difference for another human being. It feels phenomenal to give of oneself for the betterment of someone else. But what happens when you discover that the puppy you worked with so intently does not make it all the way through the program? For most people, it is part of the process. For others, like myself, it can feel like a momentary failure.
It was challenging to say good-bye to the beautiful Labrador Retriever who had become my student and constant companion 24/7 for an entire year. Despite understanding the nature of our relationship, I fell in love and had a strong connection with this special dog. Watching her disappear as she headed back to her new environment resulted in some tears, I will admit. Yet, they quickly dried as I reminded myself how someone’s life would be radically changed because of her. I left that day feeling a sense of pride. Seven weeks after her return, I received “the call”. BOLO was in store for a career change I did not expect.
BOLO’s Career Change
The news was devastating to hear. At the time, I was already a bit fragile. Stress, lack of proper self-care, and overwhelm left me ill equipped to handle this information. I immediately internalized the conversation and felt like a complete failure. This was embarrassing to me and I wanted to know what I could have done differently. The dream I once had about flying back to the organization to watch BOLO graduate and to meet the person she would guide for the rest of her life was over. Now, I would return to pick her up…no graduation. This was where I felt like I had a puppy raising fail.
It can feel devastating to learn that the puppy you worked so hard to train properly does not complete the designated program. Since the moment BOLO came back into my life, I have intentionally sought out lessons she unwittingly provides to me each day. Her wisdom has transformed the person I am today. Some lessons I took from the experience coupled with things my sweet dog has taught me has given me a new perspective. Below are some key take away lessons that can help during a puppy raise and in living your daily life too.
Experiencing a puppy raising fail was hard. I always wanted to stick to my goal of raising a behaviorally sound, well-mannered puppy who can master basic obedience skills. What we can’t control is how the dog will choose to respond to the advanced training.
In life, we only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. What happens outside of ourselves is not in our control. Trying to control situations or other people often leads to frustration or disappointment. Become aware of how you choose to respond/react to the world around you.
Never Walk Alone
Over the course of the year, raising a puppy to become a service dog has so many positive moments. Unfortunately, they don’t come without some stressful ones sprinkled along the way. Staying connected to the organization and others going through the same experience creates tremendous support to help you get through those challenging moments.
It’s Not Where you Walk, but Who Walks with you. Throughout life, take stock of who you allow in your inner circle. Who do you spend the most time with and are they people who lift your energy or pull you down. Every person in your life is either an anchor or an engine. Be strategic in surrounding yourself with the engines.
Choose Your Perspective
You hit wonderful milestones raising your future service dog throughout the year. Choose to celebrate your wins as they occur and pay little attention to the progress of others. If things are not going exactly as you had envisioned, intentionally look at the situation from a different perspective. My puppy raising fail showed me a completely different perspective, and soon enough- I didn’t feel like a failure anymore. How you choose to interpret something has a tremendous impact on your mindset and how you work with your puppy.
You do not see the world as it is, you see the world as you ARE. Understanding that we all see the world through the lenses of our experiences and the interpretations of those experiences. If you are not happy with the life you are experiencing, take time to “try on new glasses”.
BOLO’s destiny was to become the eyes for someone visually impaired. Despite being career changed, she ultimately did fulfill her mission to assist someone visually impaired. Now my dog and my teacher, BOLO has been instrumental in changing the way I see the world. Once deeply impaired in my beliefs about who I was as a person, I now subscribe to her “fur covered wisdom”, do the work daily, live more simply, and feel a sense of peace and joy that evaded me for years. Through her, my mission has become to help fellow dog lovers “fetch a life they can bark about”.