Tuesday, July 12, 2016

No More Numbers Game

I've been raising guide dogs for a long time. Almost half of my life at this point. In 2005 I received my first puppy, so it's been 11 years out of the 25 I've been alive. When I went to college I had raised 5 pups and had to take a break for 2 years to finish my degree at a 4 year university.

In 2012 I found my way to Puppy Guides of Snohomish County and in December I was given puppy #6 to raise. Since then I've raised puppies 6,7,8,9, and 10 with Puppy Guides and have become a co-leader of the group.

I'm under no illusion that I'm the best puppy raiser ever. Or even that I'm an extraordinary handler. I have been fortunate to work with the most incredible and talented leader I know and she is able to read dogs and handle them with astounding success. All this is to set up my credentials so you know I've been around the block a little when I tell you: I HATE THE NUMBERS GAME.

Granted. I'm very proud of the fact that I've raised 10 puppies. However, in puppy raiser world it has somehow became ok to engage in puppy raiser shaming. Not direct shaming, but more bragging that makes someone else feel inadequate. No one would ever intentionally do it...raisers are generally some of the most caring, kind, selfless people I know. But I've started noticing comments from people on social media.
"starter puppies don't count"
"oh...well you're co-raising"
My favorite (and by "favorite" I mean I hate it) question is
"how many of your dogs have made it?"
What do you mean by that? If you mean how many have graduated as guides, I'd have to think about it. But here's my question.....why does it matter? With the exception of the people who are genuinely curious about statistics, the goal is to see if the question asker has had more "successful" dogs than the person they're asking. My answer to that question is "all of them!" Every single one of my puppies have become happy dogs. To me, that's success. You want to talk about how many guides I've had? Maybe to judge my raising abilities? I can tell you, you are definitely a better raiser than me based on the numbers. In the past 5 dogs I've had it all.

6. Vicente- co-raised, transferred to me, graduated, retired early, adopted by me
7. Handsome-fully raised by me, career changed before recall
8. Garnish-fully raised by me, recalled for breeder evals, selected as a breeder pending final tests, dropped from breeders due to family medical issue, put into training, put in class, pulled from class due to partner leaving early, career changed, now training with Dogs 4 Diabetics
9. Jalina-starter pup, planned transfer to a friend, transferred back to me, career changed before recall at 1 year old on the same day as Garnish's career change
10. Claudette-planned on being raised by just me, co-raised, transferred to co-raiser permanently

Wow look at that list of "failure". My one "success" retired early, and I can't seem to get a dog to recall! 2 transfers, 2 co-raises, 2 dropped in-home. If we play the numbers game, I should just stop raising now. But I don't play that game. As we've already established, I'm not the best puppy raiser ever. I hate baby puppies, I get frustrated with lack of progress, I feel overwhelmed a lot. You know what? Someone has to raise the career changes! And I have an empathy now that some raisers simply don't understand.

We have a couple of raisers in our club who have had a large percentage of their dogs become graduates. One of them has graduated both of her puppies, another has had a breeder and only one career change. That's great. I'm very happy for them! Part of their success is definitely due to handling ability. Most of it is just plain luck. Who you're assigned.

But we have other families who have never raised a graduate or who went a very very long time without one. I get it. When the raiser who has only had 1 graduate out of 7 dogs gets frustrated, I can feel her pain. When one of our pups gets dropped before recall, I get it because I, too, have walked that road. When an amazing dog goes back for breeder evals and is dropped due to a medical issue in the family--that isn't even her fault--I've lived that disappointment. In the rare occurrence that a dog goes into class and gets pulled from class before graduation, I know the rollercoaster of emotions they're going through. Perhaps the hardest thing is transferring a dog that you expected to keep for the full year. I know that it's not a bad thing! And it's not a failure on your part! It's the way to get a pup you love and care deeply about to reach her fullest potential. I've been there. I've had those emotions. I've walked those roads. And while I wish I could take the pain from all of my raisers, I know I can't. Instead I'll have to walk alongside them with the empathy that can only be given from someone who has been there, too. Those who have never experienced "failure" can never really understand what it's like. Their word of condolence are a valiant attempt to be supportive, but they just don't know what if feels like to be in your shoes.

Maybe I'd feel differently if my numbers looked better. But hey, I've learned a lot from my crazy puppies. Maybe #11 will teach me something new.