I don't often post details of my puppy raising on this blog as "B" has a blog dedicated to all those adventures; however, recently we had a puppy cross over from Seeing Eye duty to the "civilian" world.
To date, we have raised 12 puppies for The Seeing Eye, nine of which have gone on to the breeding station or to become dog guides. The third puppy raised, was my beloved Orlando. He was very head strong and was quite the handful, to say the least. At times, I would leash him to me which enabled quick-correction for any undesired behavior such as jumping on the kitchen counter (as well as any and everyone), grabbing trash, bolting though any opened door. You get the idea.
With the passage of time, Orlando matured into a beautiful, well-behaved yet still obstinate boy. During my "watch" I taught him what I called the "stay on the porch trick;" he was to remain on the front porch of the house until I released him. Once he understood this allowed him to lay for long periods of time in the outdoor sun watching all the neighborhood activities, it became one of his favorite things to do. He began lurking at the front door, waiting for it to be opened, so he can bask in the warmth summer sunlight. (if unattended, he was leashed) After spending long hours each day, for over a year ,working with him; he was one of the most difficult puppies to send back for his formal training.
Five months passed before I received the official call that he was too "head strong" to continue with The Seeing Eye program. It seems Orlando decided he wanted to come home. I wondered if he would remember me, would he still have the strong attachment? On the day of his release, and upon seeing me, he did a happy dance. But don't all labs do this dance? Did he remember, or was he just a happy lab? As we got closer to home, he became more alert looking around, was he remembering? Upon our arrival, I opened the hatch door and he took off like a bullet, for what was only a few seconds but felt like minutes. Rounding the corner to the front of the house I looked up ,and there he was! Orlando was sitting on the front porch wagging his tail. He was home!
Orlando, (aka Sweet "Pee"), spent his remaining years (just over 11) with me as my companion. He was a source of comfort thru many difficult times; he was with me when my son left for boot camp and later when he departed for the War in Iraq. He was there with me through my divorce and when my younger son moved out. He was a pillow to lay on when my Nana passed and more recently when B's Dad passed. He, also, shared in the life's joys, the developing relationship with B, the birth of our first grandchild, and the return from War party for my son. No matter how crazy my world became, I knew Orlando would be waiting at the door for my return or sleeping next my bed during the long nights. But one of his most important jobs was to help me raise 8 puppies all of which went on to be successful Seeing Eye dogs. He was the very definition of man's best friend.
Time quickly passed and all-too-soon his last days were at hand. They were spent enjoying the comfort of his bed while wrapped in a blanket. He slowly became thin and cold . His appetite dwindled and assistance was required in getting him to his feet. At this point, it was evident his time had come. Orlando's passing was at 3:30 on a cold February afternoon and hopefully, for my dear friend and companion, was quick and painless. The trip home afterward was unusually long and sullen. Upon arrival, and to help take my mind off of the emptiness, I turned on the computer and opened my email. There, time stamped just 1 hour after Orlando's passing, was an email from The Seeing Eye; Willow, our last puppy raised for The Seeing Eye had developed ear infections and was being released from the program. The irony overwhelmed me. Even in death, Orlando is still watching over me. He sent Willow to take his place. Since Orlando's return, Willow is the only pup I've raised who didn't make the program. A sign? Mere coincidence? You decide!
As for me, I'm betting that somewhere in heaven lays a black dog sunning himself on a porch. His tail wags as he realizes once again that he is home.