Sunday, April 1, 2012

Friday - Open House at Southeastern's campus

Friday - March 2...St.Petersburg, FL

After driving all day Wednesday and Thursday, Smokey needed to burn off some energy and stretch those long, spindly legs. 

We got up early Friday morning and took a walk in the big city.  It was good exposure for him.  Stopping at the cross walks and waiting on the Don't Walk/Walk lights.  We don't have a lot of the Walk/Don't Walk lights where we live, and it seemed like he was actually watching the traffic flow.

On Friday Afternoon, Southeastern had an open house for raisers and Walkathon folks.

This was our first time to see the campus. This is a very impressive operation.  The grounds are meticulous, and the layout is perfect for training guide dogs and the visually impaired.  Everybody we met was so friendly, helpful and proud of the campus and the work they were doing.  It didn't seem to matter if they were trainers, administrative folks, canine techs, employees or volunteers.  They enjoyed their job and were proud of their mission.

The photo above shows a walkway through a beautiful garden full of tropical type plants.  The walkways wind around and come to cross walks, rail crossings, and curbs.  These areas are used to train and test dogs and students.

As we have stated before, Southeastern Guide Dogs is totally contribution and volunteer driven.  The bricks in the sidewalk are etched with names of contributors.  The benches along the way also have a plaque of major contributors to the cause.  

The campus is about 25 acres.  The campus has an administrative building and a dormitory for the students during their 26 day stay.  There is a kennel for the puppies and new moms.  Another kennel us used for isolation of new pups coming in for training, and a larger kennel is used for the dogs that are progressing through their stages of training.  The kennels were all clean, and the dogs had large runs.  Several times while we were there dogs were let out in their runs for exercise.  They were zooping around and playing what looked like a game of chase or canine tag.  They looked like they were having a ball.

These vans are certainly eye catching.  

 A rolling billboard.  

This rock has been the site of many "last photo op" for many a raiser and puppy going back for training and is in front of the administrative/dormitory building.

The area in the photo above is a courtyard type affair with a gazebo. This area is relatively new and is used for training sessions, a gathering place for tours and presentations and the site for "Guide Dog U" when dogs are surrendered back to the school for final training.  Our experience with Guide Dog U will be discussed in a later post.

As part of the Open House, we had an obedience seminar for raisers.  We have come to realize there is an unwritten rule somewhere that says "anytime there is more than three puppy raisers in one place there shall be an obedience session".  Seriously we love these sessions, and always pick up some tidbit that we didn't know or forgot about.  It is also good for the dogs because they get to work around other dogs at times like these.  It is good practice because they will train together with other dogs when they return to the school.  Also, eventual guide dog users have friends that are also visually impaired so chances are they will come in contact with other guide dogs and need to know how to work without being distracted by them. 

Greg and Smokey working on the "Come" command.

Various raisers working on "sit/stay", "down/stay", and "heel" commands in the courtyard.  To give you an idea of the size of this area, I would say there were probably 30 folks working with their dogs during this time.

That was fun Dad, what is next ?  I'm a little hungry and a lot thirsty after all of that training.  How about a kibble ?

This is the training kennel.  Dogs that go back to the school for training first go to a smaller kennel where they learn the basics of kennel life, and go through health and temperament testing.  After a clean bill of health they will come here to the training kennel.  Trainers and techs work with the dogs almost daily.  They get chances to exercise during the day.  Volunteers some times come and walk them on campus.  Dogs that don't happen to be training on a particular day will sometimes spend time in one of the administrative offices.  In the offices, they get needed people interaction and get to practice their inside manners.  Some of these dogs may get placed with someone who works in an office, so practicing inside manners and becoming re-familiarized with tie downs etc. is a must.

Above is a picture of a Smooth Coat Collie.  I think at this time there were only two of this breed left at Southeastern.  I believe one has since been placed with a graduate, and the other is still in the training kennel.

This is in the Puppy Kennel.  Each run has a card for the pups in the run along with important info like Dam and Sire, birth date, .... most importantly it has their micro-chip information.  The techs have hand held readers, so they know they have the right pup when they take them out for shots or other vet care.

You can see why a micro chip reader would come in handy.  Which pup is Suzy?  The yellow female you say?  Still leaves a few possibilities.

This is a "puppy hugging" session in the puppy kennel, which is an almost daily occurrence.  It must be a local favorite also.  A couple of times were told by locals that they go down to the school every couple of months to get in some "puppy hugging" time.  Everybody has to use anti bacterial gel on their hands to cut down on the possibility of  an outbreak of some sort in the kennel.  You get down on the floor and they open the puppy flood gates.  They come charging in like the running of the bulls.

Like two kids after the same toy.  They were healthy little guys and gals.

Okay, who wants to pet me now.  
Yeah, I know I'm cute, as a matter of fact I am the cutest.

While at the puppy kennel, we saw Stross' tag.  She wasn't in the run, but was outside exercising with her litter mates.  At this point, we had already been told she would be our next pup.  We were to pick her up the next day.  We had seen pictures, but were dying to meet her.  Stross's Dad is Sparky.  Sparky was raised a couple of years ago by one of the Houston raisers (Cindy).  Cindy is really excited, because 6 out of 7 of this Sparky liter is coming to Houston to be raised.

Melissa sweet talked one of the puppy kennel techs into letting us meet Stross.  She is a real cutie, and must have had a reputation in the puppy kennel.  The tech indicated Stross was a Diva in her own mind. We have since nicknamed her, Stross the Boss, Drama queen and full of beans. (we will explain THAT in a future post, too).

She is a little wiggle worm.

If you hold her, she likes to hang her head sideways or upside down.

Then out comes the tongue.  
(We think she is really just making faces for the camera!)

After the tour of the campus, we went back to St. Petersburg for the night.  Our last night with Smokey.  We went out to dinner with several puppy raisers.  The Houston group was well represented, and we met some raisers from other areas of the country.  Again, all good people doing good work for a great cause.

The view from our table at Cha Cha Coconuts...on the Pier

Smokey had another big day.  He saw lots of folks, lots of dogs, and saw what will be his temporary home.  He crashed pretty quickly back at the hotel.  Unbeknownst to him, the next day, his world was about to change big time.  He would be leaving us.  We knew this was what Smokey was born and bred to do. We were just hoping and praying that he would be healthy enough to carry on with training and that he responded well to the great trainers at Southeastern.   As he goes off to Guide Dog U he will take a big piece of our hearts with him.  It's been a fun year and he is a great pup.

Our next blog post will be about Walk-a-Thon stop back by again soon!

Hi Ho Hi's off to Florida we go!

Hi yall. Sorry it's been so long since we've posted. The past month has been FULL and we have SO much to tell you about!

First off, our year as first-time volunteer puppy raisers for Smokey, the guide-dog-in-training, came to a tearful close on March 3rd at 1:30pm. Yes, we will remember that moment... always!  We knew when we decided to become puppy raisers that our time with Smokey would be all-too-brief, but the allotted year went much faster than either of us could imagine. As much as we tried to prepare ourselves for his send-off, it was very sad to see him go.  At the hand-off, tears were shed and big hugs were given, then Smokey turned away and trotted off with a trainer to fulfill his next journey of life.

The final, and most difficult duty of a volunteer puppy raiser is to return the puppy they have raised to the Southeastern Guide Dog campus in Florida for final training. The staff at Southeastern calls this final stage of training "Guide Dog University".

Since Smokey's return was scheduled for the same weekend as Walk-A-Thon, we were excited about a fun and very full weekend of events.   Our next few posts will tell the story of our final days with our precious boy...all grown up...and ready to go off and serve.  Please share in our happiness as present you some photos and a few stories of our final weekend with Smokey.

Wednesday, Feb 29....Head out on the highway....

We got up very early to start the 17 hour drive to St.Petersburg, FL. Smokey was very curious about all the packing the night before...and watched our every move as we were getting ready to leave. Smokey boy had NO idea our journey would be so long....

Smokey is a patient traveler as you can tell. We let him sit on a tie down in the floorboard of the back seat so he could stretch out.  FYI, Guide dogs are not allowed to ride in the car seat, or, to roam free in the car.

Are we there yet?

Several hours and several hundred miles later, we moved him to the front passenger seat floorboard, where he could snuggle with mom. Smokey has gotten so big that sitting in this position for too long proved uncomfortable for both him and for mom. 

We gotta stop now, mom, or else!

"..Takin care of 'bidness...." (or as we puppy raisers call it, BUSY and BUSY BUSY) and a few minutes to stretch our legs...

Smokey says, "seriously? You're kidding me - right? We're not gettin back in that car, are we?"

Hi Ho Hi Ho, Back in the car we go..

Just how much is a fella 'supposed to take?
Oh my, can it be? Is it true?

We made it!  Time to find some Florida Orange Juice!

In addition to a lovely welcome center with lots of fresh OJ, Pensacola is home to the amazing Blue Angels! Believe it or not, this is mom and dad's first visit to Florida. We would have loved to stop and spend some time here, tour the naval base, etc. but our time would not permit. So, we pose for a quick photo, and hit the road again...

We stop just north of Destin for the night. Dinner at Cracker Barrel for the hungry travelers..

Now this is another first for Smokey -- an overnight stay in a hotel. He was quite smitten with the situation...the smells...the neighbors in the room next door, etc. But the staff..not so much!  Greg and I are RV'rs and prefer driving own very "apartment" to our travel destinations, so this was a change of pace for us as well.

After dinner, and getting a chance to sniff the place from top to bottom, Smokey was quite happy to climb into his bed for the night... although he knew something was up!

Thursday...March 1.. St.Petersburg or bust!

After a good night's sleep, we hit the road early, hoping to make it to St.Petersburg by 3pm..

After a few hours on the road, a vehicle passed us on the interstate bearing a Southeastern Puppy Raiser Paw-print placard on the back of their car.  When we saw their Texas license plates, we felt sure that these folks were returning a puppy to Southeastern just like we were. We sped up and moved into the adjacent lane so I could motion to them and wave Smokey's blue service cape in the window. The driver smiled back and responded with a big thumb's up and pointed to the back seat of the car. Just a few miles down the road, they pulled into a rest area and we followed in behind them so we could meet them.

Meet Doc! And Doc's raisers, Lynn and Pam Denson, of Dallas.

As it turns out, Doc was also being returned to Southeastern for final training. Doc happens to be a litter mate of Addy, a pup raised in Houston who was also being returned to Southeastern by her raisers, Ellie and Carol Anatrella. We enjoyed our brief visit with Pam and Lynn at the rest stop. They have been volunteer puppy raisers for Southeastern for almost 2 decades. Doc was their 16th puppy to raise..and they are picking up puppy #17 to start the journey again. Great job guys!!

We finally arrive at the Hotel Indigo in St.Petersburg late Thursday afternoon.

We are one of the first ones to arrive at the hotel.   But before long, the hotel had...well...gone to the dogs! The Hotel Indigo was the host hotel for this year's Walk-A-thon, which is the biggest fundraiser for Southeastern. It is held every March in the Tampa Bay area. 

We quickly check into our room and decide to take a walk on Beach Shore Drive. St.Petersburg is a beautiful city and our hotel is just a few blocks from the water front of Tampa Bay. We enjoyed a yummy dinner right on the water.

After a long walk and meeting some fellow puppy raisers at the hotel, we settled down for good night's rest.  Tomorrow is gonna be a big day!  Check back for the next part of our story....


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