Saturday, June 16, 2012

Puppy pickup day

Saturday, Mar 3, 2012 - 4pm.
Yay! It's finally time for Stross to be checked out of the puppy kennel and into our care for the next 12 months. There is a detailed puppy pickup-up process that ensures that the right pup goes home with the right family. There is also paperwork to sign, contracts to sign, and other legal stuff - which protects Southeastern so that nobody runs off to Canada with their puppies! LOL

So many people ask us if we get to pick out the pup that we want to raise. The answer is no, but you can specify if you'd rather have male or female (sometimes this is important if you have family pets at home). You can also indicate what bred or color that you'd rather have, but it really is up to the school to make assignments.

Did I already mention how colorful and cute the puppy kennel is? It looks more like a day care center than a puppy kennel! This is just one of many kennels that line the hallway of the building, and this happens to be Stross' kennel. See all those blue tags clipped to the kennel door?

There is a tag for each pup housed in each kennel. The tag pictured above is for Stross. These tags are clipped to the cage so the canine care technicians and volunteers can keep track of each litter. However, Southeastern microchips all their pups when they are born so that the techs can keep track of who is who. With so many pups of like breed and color in the kennel, this is a requirement!

At long last, after all contracts are signed and other requirements met, a canine care technician goes to get Stross. And here she is!

Stross greets us with a kiss and we are instantly in love!

She is such a beautiful baby girl. So much to learn and to experience.

Are you ready to move to Texas little girl?

The girl-pup twins, Wheeler (L) and Stross (R)

Both Wheeler and Stross were sponsored by The St.Petersberg Chapter of the DAR, and were named to honor 2 very special members of their organization. Wheeler and Stross are both going to be raised in the Houston, TX area. Shown with Wheeler (L) is her raiser, Lisa. And Greg is holding Stross (R). Wheeler and Stross are very similar in looks and in personality.

We get a quick photo at the kennel before taking off.

Stross accepts her first collar and leash like a pro!

A group photo of the pups that are going to be taken back to Texas to be raised by families in either Dallas or Houston. It's a lot of Texans with a lot of love to bring to each of these special pups. Six of Stross' littermates are going to be raised in Houston - Sully, Barb, Wheeler, Jonah & George. So, saddle up boys and's going to be a looong drive home!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Introducing..... Miss Stross!

While at Southeastern's main campus in Palmetto, FL, we had an opportunity to take a tour of the 23 acre campus and facilities. We got to meet many of the staff to whom we had been communicating with over Facebook, telephone and email. It's always nice to put a face with a name! 

Everything at Southeastern is top notch. The grounds are landscaped and well manicured, with plenty of shade and garden benches. It is immaculate and very serene.  The entire operation is run with a priority to service -- and it is 100% funded by private donors. 

Countless numbers of volunteers help to power this organization and contribute hours of hard work to make it successful. The day we were there, we saw volunteers running around everywhere! And we couldn't help but notice that they are all happy, friendly, enthusiastic supporters of the program who are enjoying themselves and their work. They are eager to talk about the guide-dog program.  They are driven to make this organization successful and are proud to be part of it's mission.

All of this is important because Southeastern provides guide dogs at no cost to their students!

Our tour included the office, the training kennels, the vet clinic, a tour of the grounds, but THE most POPULAR stop on the tour was the puppy kennel!  Puppies!  Who doesn't love puppies? 

The last stop of our tour allowed us plenty of time to tour the puppy kennel and experience what is called "puppy hugging". Southeastern has a wonderful puppy kennel where their new pups are born and housed for the first couple of months of life. The facility is spotless, super bright, and well-ventilated. After a walk through the kennel and peeking in at all the adorable puppies, we were escorted into the colorful and spacious puppy-hugging room, where early socialization helps puppies learn to love humans and feel comfortable with  movement and people;

Upon entering the puppy kennel, a requirement is that you thoroughly wash your hands with antibacterial cleaner. But before we entered the puppy-hugging room, we had to clean our hands AGAIN. Everybody sat on the floor in a circle and the volunteers let the pups loose. It was like the running of the bulls in Spain. Puppies scrambled everywhere!

The puppies ruled the roost. They loved being the center of attention and were well aware of all the humans vying for their attention. They teased, they tumbled, and they frolicked.

Toys were laid out everywhere and we became kids again, captivated by the cuteness of these little guys and gals. These little pups knew their audience, and promptly filled our hearts with love.

And guess who we get to finally meet?  Our new pup to raise, Stross. She is a beautiful female yellow lab. She is 14 weeks old. The St.Petersberg chapter of the DAR contributed a sponsorship donation to Southeastern for the naming rights of our little pup. Stross is named for John Stross, an entrepreneur and business owner  in St.Petersberg, FL.

Stross is precious!

We can tell right off the bat that she is a bit of a DIVA..

..and that she is going to be a blast to raise.

Stross The Boss.

you are full of beans..

and a drama queen!

But you are just what we need to fill the gaping hole in our hearts.
Welcome into our hearts, little girl!
We love you already!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

So...What happens now?

So many have asked us -- "so now what -- what happens to Smokey?".. Well, Smokey is now back at Southeastern Guide Dog's main campus at Palmetto, FL, attending "Guide Dog University".

We spent many hours training Smokey on basic obedience, how to navigate stairs and doors with a visually impaired person, as well as the necessary social skills to be a service dog out in public places.  Now comes the difficult training and Southeastern Guide Dogs has the certified dog trainers and the process to accomplish it.

The first hurdle that Smokey had to face was life in the "Freshman Dorm".  He was paired up with 3 other male dogs as his kennel mates.  Remember Smokey was "an only dog" at our house and had his own crate, pillow, water bowel and toys.  So he had to adjust to living with other dogs and learn proper kennel manners like waiting for all kennel mates to be served their food before being released to eat, sitting at the kennel entrance while accepting the leash etc.

He was housed there in the Freshmen Dorm for about 3 weeks while he was evaluated for heath, manners, aggression, etc.  We were happy to hear that he successfully passed all of those evaluations with no issues noted.  We were fairly sure aggression, temperament, and social skills were not going going to be an issue, but you never know what can be hiding in those hips and elbows that can prevent them from being a working dog.  During this time of transition, the pups are given lots of time to run together, go for walks with volunteers and be loved and petted by Canine Care Assistants and Trainers.

After all of the evaluations were completed, Smokey along with other pups that went In For Training at the same time were assigned to a training team and moved to the training kennel.  We have gotten a few pictures and reports via Twitter (which is checked at our house at least 10 times per day), and we get monthly training reports from the trainers.  The reports so far have made us glow with pride.  We continue to hope and pray that Smokey's health continues to be good and that he can continue to absorb the training at the school.

Tweet photo on April 5: Smokey is Ready to Work!

Tweet photo on April 17 - Smokey will pose for FOOD!
Tweet photo on May 3: Smokey surveys the library
Many people have asked us if we will know if Smokey gets matched with a visually impaired person and if we will know who gets him.  The answer is Yes.  If Smokey get's matched with a visually impaired person, we will go back to Florida for what is called "Puppy Raiser Day".  During this day we will get to see Smokey and his "forever person" work together.  We will also get to eat lunch with them and get to know them.  After puppy raiser day there is a "no contact" period of 90 days to allow the new team time to focus on working together.  Then communication between us and the new handler is allowed. 

There are 3 phases of training and as of today (6/14/2012) Smokey is in Phase 2, learning how to travel on escalators. Southeastern has been SO GOOD to keep us posted on Smokey's progress, even sending a personalized postcard and letter to "mom and dad" to let us know how he is doing. We love it!

Smokey's postcard

So now we are waiting as patiently as possible for the day when "THAT CALL" comes to tell us his training is complete and he has been matched with a person who needs him.  We know that person  will grow to love and appreciate him as much as we do.

April 25, 2012 -- Smokey in harness

It's oh, so hard to say goodbye...

It's Oh, SO hard to say goodbye.
 I'll take with me the memories 
To be my sunshine after the rain

The moment has come to surrender Smokey back to Southeastern.
It's 1pm on Saturday March 3, 2012.

The school has a special ceremony planned. 
These pups are "graduating" and moving on to final training at Guide Dog University..

Each pup has a sign with their name and baby picture on it. The entrance to the school is lined with these signs...there are around 25 pups graduating today.

Smokey boy is going to college!

This sign is for Suzette - Smokey's sister.
Suzette was raised by Sharon Vollers.

And here's Hannah's sign. Hannah was raised by Carol and Bob Rone.
(We didn't have time to photograph the other Houston pup's signs, but also going back today were Addy and Lou-Lou.)

We get a brief couple of minutes to pose for a last photo with Smokey.

This engraved rock is the sight of many photo ops!
So many photos have been taken here that it's now been dubbed The Photo Rock.

We all gather at a central pavilion to await the start of the ceremony. There is a large audience of pups, raisers, and families along with Southeastern employees and trainers who are coordinating the afternoon's events.  This is our tearful self-portrait...just minutes before surrendering Smokey.

One by one, each puppy was called to center stage under the gazebo to be honored and surrendered to a Southeastern trainer. Pictured above is Doc, and his raisers the Densons (from Dallas, TX), being called to the stage. It's only moments until we hear the call for Smokey....

And finally, we do. Here we are walking Smokey up to the gazebo.

A trainer greets us at the gazebo and slips a new collar and leash on to Smokey's neck....and we remove our collar and leash.

Smokey has no clue what is happening, but he is eager and accepting of the trainer's new collar.

Okay - time for a final kiss...with a photographer on hand to memorialize the moment for us.

I remove Smokey's bandana and give him a final kiss..

And away he goes...never to look back. He is ready to take off on his new adventure .
Our leash felt so empty then...and even now, as we write this article months later, we are both crying. It's impossible to describe the hole that is left in your heart when you see your pup walk away. But at the same time, you know that you have done all you can do to help your pup get a successful start to it's future of service. What a blessing this experience has been. Now, the rest is in his paws!

The staff at Southeastern was so warm and gracious to us. They appreciate their volunteer puppy raisers and it is obvious to us by the way they treated all of us this afternoon. Above is a photo of us with Tara and Leslie, members of the puppy raising staff, and the CEO of Southeastern, Titus Herman, at the awards presentation.

Each puppy raiser received a Certificate "The Presidents Call to Service Award" signed by President Obama.

...and this beautiful service award pin.

This is Smokey's first photo, taken with the harness, when he is just about 6 weeks old.

..and now at 14 months old..what a beautiful boy you have grown up to be...

You are our hero.
We love you forever.
You will always have a special place in our hearts.
You are in our prayers to become all that you are meant to be.
With God's help, we will see you again on Puppy Raiser Day!

Walk-a-thon Saturday

Saturday, March 3rd....  

Today is the biggest annual event and fundraiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc.
It just so happens that today is the day that Smokey will be surrendered back to the school for final training.

We are ready to leave the hotel for Walk-a-thon. Today is bittersweet for us because we know that this is our last day with Smokey. Doesn't he look spiffy in his bright green Southeastern Bandana?  The pups don't have to wear their service jackets today - it's a fun day for them, and they are officially OFF DUTY...

These are the buses from Southeastern that provide transportation from the host hotel to the Walk-a-thon event a few blocks away.  Great advertising - and pretty cute pictures too!

Greg and Smokey relax at a beach-side cafe for a cup-o-Joe and a bagel. Smokey tries to find some shade. It's only March but it's already getting hot and humid in St.Petersberg...and it feels just like home!

Smokey...he always knows where the food is.

A quick photo at Vinoy Park. It's a beautiful location, right on the water.

The marina that is adjacent to Vinoy Park. It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining and people are gathering for the day's activities.

Getting ready for the walk. This photo is by Cindy Weatherby, a member of St.Petersberg chapter of the D.A.R.

A few of our Houston bunch with puppies that are being turned in today. From left, Carol and Ellie Annatrella (with Addy), Eileen and Jenni Scamardo (with Lou-Lou), Melissa and Greg David (with Smokey).

And the walk begins. With all the people and dogs present, Smokey is beyond excited... and foaming at the mouth. Here, he is sporting a full beard of foam. There are thousands of people that turned out for this event, and almost a thousand dogs. Southeastern raised about $450K over the weekend!  

Above are some more Houston friends --- Hannah Kelly and her mom Amy are new raisers that are picking up their first puppy after the walk-a-thon today.

It was a beautiful venue walking on the paved sidewalk alongside the water. 
Here, Greg walks with Eileen and Jenni Scamardo.

The finish line! The pups are thirsty, as are we.

We finally got to meet the family that sponsored Smokey. Toni and Jim Turner, and their grand-dog Bella, came out for the event and we were delighted to finally get to meet them. Toni and Jim's son, Parker, and his wife Emily were the donors of the funds for Smokey's naming rights. Smokey's namesake was Toni and Jim's chocolate lab, Smokey, who passed away in 2010.

Toni gets some time to snuggle with Smokey. 

Smokey, Toni and Bella relax after the event. 

Find me some shade! Please and thank you!

I love this photo. I wish it had turned out clearer. 
Dad tells Smokey what a GOOD boy he is!

Posing at a very cool tree in Vinoy Park.

It's still hot!

Back at the hotel, we spend a few minutes taking some last photos with Smokey. In just minutes we'll be leaving St.Petersberg to drive over to Southeastern's campus in Palmetto. It's surreal that in just a few hours, he will be gone...and a big chunk of our hearts will go with him.

Our last self portrait. I love this picture too. Just look at that face...Smokey knows something is up. He is a beautiful boy.

Too big for mama's lap now, but we get a photo anyway. Tears are welling up in my eyes as I try to smile for the photo. I wonder, will giving up the next pup we raise be this hard? My heart is breaking.

We love you Smokey boy...

Forever and always...

You are going to  make us proud.


This site is not affiliated with or endorsed by Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. The views and opinions stated here belong to the blog author and may not accurately reflect those of Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc.