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My life can be marked by the special relationships I have had with dogs. As a very small child a wonderful Gordon Setter named Tora was my nanny. I don’t remember that as a toddler she kept me corralled in a small grassy patch in our backyard our yard, and fussed over me like I was her own puppy. I do remember that as an older child she was my protector from my mother’s abusive husband. In the end she died by his hand, and I had my first brush with the devotion of a dog.

Then there was Ben, a German Shepard Dog, the faithful companion brought home by my dad. He was my dad’s running partner, and our family protector. Thinking back to our quiet little neighborhood, I am not sure what he was protecting us from, but when the night came he was on duty. He was the dog who put up my sisters and I, as well as the parade of other animals that came through our house. He was the dog that stayed at home when I left to start my own life.

Puck, a rescued black Labrador Retriever, was my “first” dog – the first dog I had as an adult, my first (and failed attempt) at crate training, the first dog my husband and I had together, and the first of many labs to grace our lives. We adopted her as an abandoned 7 week old pup in the aftermath of my grandmother’s death. My grandmother had been my rock, my mentor, my everything. She made me the woman I am and saved me from myself too many times to count. Puck provided the distractions I needed. Potty training a mischievous lab by puppy can pretty much distract a person from anything.

Shortly thereafter our family grew to include another black Lab rescue “Boz”, because I thought Puck was lonely. Turns out it was me who was lonely, as this was the stretch of time Dave and I worked opposite shifts and different days off. He was an adult when we adopted him so pleasantly he also served as Puck’s mentor. She learned most of her commands by mirroring him. Boz became my constant companion and partner in crime. He took this role very seriously and was given the very prestigious and important job of holding down the couch while I lounged around and read.

A few years after that Angel (our first yellow Lab) came to live with us on her way to the shelter. We knew this nine-year old lab wouldn’t stand a chance at adoption so we decided to take her in and find her a home – which ended up to be our house. While she was certainly Dave’s girl, my life was also enriched by having her. Our “pack” was wonderfully spoiled, and lived to the ripe old ages of 16, 15, and 17 respectfully.

Then came our first CCI puppy, Sabina. I will admit there were times I thought that there is no way this dog will ever graduate she is too everything – stubborn, obstinate, sassy, I could go on and on. I apparently I couldn’t have been more wrong, she was so good she became a breeder. I spent quite a bit of time with her as a puppy following all the puppy raiser rules. The mantra of the time was “is she isn’t my puppy, she is just hanging out with Dave and I getting ready for her forever person.”

The heart doesn’t always see things the way the head does. Turning her in was horrible, coming home that day was the first time we came home to a dog-free home in over 15 years. Still despite all the hurt it was exceeded by my desire for her to graduate. A short weeks later new CCI pup, Lacinda, came home filling our empty house. Lacinda a Golden Retriever/Labrador cross was a super snuggly pup. A stark contrast to my very independent bossy girl Sabina. I melted as she eased the sadness of Sabina’s turn-in.

The day the call came that Sabina would be a breeder I was full of mixed emotions. She was supposed to graduate and be a miracle in someone’s life. Yeah breeders are the best of the best yada yada, but it isn’t the same as being a working service dog. Writing a blog this personal often means talking about being wrong. I am starting to be humbled about how often I am wrong – being a breeder is exactly what she was supposed to do.

Being a puppy raiser is a pretty awesome privilege and the possibility to help change a life is amazing, but it is one life at a time. A very wise fellow breeder caretaker reminded me that breeder caretakers have the unique chance to help many people all over the course of eight weeks. Don’t get me wrong the work that happens over those eight weeks multiplied by the number of puppies can be daunting, but is one of the single most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. It is certainly one of things I am most proud of ever doing.

When you become a puppy raiser you learn there is only so much you can for your dog on their journey to being a service dog. The simple fact is that a good part of the journey is up to the dog. The joke in our house is that Sabina chose to become a breeder because she heard they get to eat 15 cups of kibble a day while nursing (which is true). I think she chose the breeder career path as an excuse to come home to take care of us. I am guessing she knew we were ready to start a new pack, and figured out since she already had us trained she would pick us. Seeing as she is an over achiever she decided she would to the breeder thing as well.

She is the perfect fit for our family. She knows when Dave has had a tough day, and needs to be snuggled. She is the house greeter (because the only reason people come over is to see her), watches over the kids when they are here, and serves as our pool’s life guard. She is also pretty good at helping out with training the new aspiring service dogs.

This dog knows me better than I know myself. I tell people she is sort of my dog. This the part when Dave  rolls his eyes and says “Uh no I love her, but she loves you best.” There might be a little truth to that. Boz can never be replaced; however,  Sabina is like my successor partner in crime. You can see her act noticeably different when I have a migraine, and tended to me through a bout of Shingles. (I swear she has speeded up my recovery time.) She know just how far she can push me, and what she can get away with. She also knows what to do to melt my heart, cure my blues, and make me laugh. I am being completely serious.

At a recent CCI graduation one of the class speakers share that his doctor had told him that often the best medicine for a person’s insides was the outside of a dog. Truer words may have never been spoken. All of these devoted companions have certainly been good for what has ailed me – whether it is my head or my heart. Their unconditional love and devotion have made my good times greater, my bad times better, and in general made my world a kinder gentler place.

Dog’s devotion to people, I think, makes the whole world a kinder, gentler place.

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