Sunday, April 1, 2012

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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