Thursday, October 28, 2010

Goodbye, Alfie

Alfie's gear was packed, feeding instructions written down, and Alfie himself received a thorough grooming.  Monday came, our goodbyes were said, one last picture was taken...

My husband Tim, the kids, and I are all kneeling on the lawn in front of our house, Alfie in the middle

...and I handed over his leash for the last time.  I did better than I thought I would; I managed not to break down and cry or do anything embarrassing.

That came later.

I had to run to the store for something and as I pulled up to the traffic light the random thought broke into my consciousness:  This was the first intersection where we crossed 4 lanes of traffic together.  I remembered Alfie's aplomb despite his young age and the busy traffic, as well as his polite tolerance of a toddler who patted his head as she walked the opposite direction with her mama.  Sure enough, tears start to well up.

OK, OK, calm down, I think as the light turns green and I head for the store...impossible not to remember, though, the many times I'd been here with Alfie:  how well he knew his "lefts" and "rights" (better than many people, actually) much he enjoyed finding the impressed people were that I could drop his leash anywhere and he'd relax into an automatic down/stay, always smiling at what I'm sure he took to be his adoring public.  No point in fighting the tears any more, so I just let them come! 

Somehow I manage to get my errand done, but the scene replays daily in various forms no matter where I go:

This is the store where some kids came racing around the corner and ran right into us...
We went and saw a movie with Alfie at that theater...
I remember working those steep  stairs there...
That's where we rode the bus the first time...

...And on and on.  At some stores, the staff even miss Alfie and ask about him!  I went to pick up a prescription and was greeted with, "Where is your dog?"  He's become, in some ways, almost a part of me. 
Alfie's sitting, pink tongue out, in the low crook of a liveoak tree; there's one giant branch on each side of him and the place where the branches meet forms a wide place low enough for him to sit in

But there's a sweetness to the sorrow, too:  If he already means this much to me, imagine what he'll mean to his partner as a fully trained guide.  That's what it's always been about, I remind myself.

Larry promised to update me on Alfie, and I'll post any news I get to this blog just in case there are still any interested readers out there!  My own life is opening a new chapter and I'm excited about what it may hold...who knows, maybe I'll continue blogging in some form later on, once I get settled.  This blog has been a fun journey for me, and seems to have taken on a life of its own!

I wake up to an oddly silent room in the mornings now.  No crate beside my bed, no questioning Grrr? coming from inside.  I used to flop over and unlatch the door with one hand, and he'd come out sleepily, yawning and leaning into me with a sort of Wawagaaa and a big whiskery kiss on the face. 
Starting off on our last walk together, Alfie and I are facing away from the camera; he's seated at my side, looking up at me and I'm looking down at him; the evening sun is slanting through the trees

Now there's just a crate-sized square of mashed-down carpet at my bedside...and, forever, an imprint on my heart.

Love you, Alfie.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Take Time

Dogs are great for reminding us:  Take time out.  Go for a walk.  We'd all been working hard Friday and needed a break.  I thought that since Alfie's just here a couple more days -- and our family's only here in Texas for a couple more weeks -- we needed to get out and enjoy meandering around the capitol building one last time!

Alfie and me on the walkway leading up to the main entrance of the Capitol; he's jacketed and sitting all relaxed next to me

Alfie's lying down facing me where I'm seated on a park bench he just found for me.
Find the seat, good dog!

going up the steps, Alfie's fur and ears are blowing back
As usual -- it was gusty.

Funny little story:  We waited in line quite a while to get in, due to the new security measures and metal detectors.  I thought going through a metal detector would be a great new experience for Alfie!  I asked the officer if he wanted us to go through separately, or together.  He said together -- and that if the detector went off, we'd just have to get "wanded" by another officer.  We went through together and Alfie was fine despite the LOUD beeping when --yes-- we set it off.  I obediently went over to get "wanded."  The lady there said (no kidding):  "Oh, you don't have to come here unless you set it off.  Did you set it off?"  Seemed to be on the honor system!  I was oh so tempted to say no and avoid the hassle, but of course I'm too honest.  She used her metal-detecting wand on Alfie and that DID make him jump -- it seemed a very threatening gesture, plus it beeped too (collar and tags).  She shrugged and said, "go ahead," and off we went.  I guess we just don't look that suspicious, hehe!

We worked lots and lots and LOTS of stairs.  Then we found elevators...and bathrooms.  With bathrooms on so many floors, the capitol is a great training location.  I did my best not to give him any hints so that he could practice finding and decision-making on his own.  Fun!  

I'm half-sitting, half-leaning against an enormous live oak with Alfie seated at my feet
Loved this big live oak...

looking into the distance across bright green, neatly trimmed sections of lawn, you can see Alfie and me walking together in the distance, framed by trees, as the evening sun starts to slant down
...and the peaceful, manicured grounds.

Couldn't resist this shot!  Plus, a chance to practice down/stay in the presence of pigeons and passersby.

view from the passenger's side of Alfie's head resting right where the AC vents are in the front console of the car

And to close, another thing I'll remember about Alf:  when in the car, he's usually good about curling up in the passenger-side floorboard.  But the moment I turn the AC on "outside air"...he's up and resting his chin like this, drinking in the smells.  There's just enough space for him to stand comfortably between the seats.  He can't see much but I don't think that matters -- he can smell it ALL!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Alfie's always enjoyed water: walking in the rain, sticking his head under the gushing downspout during a storm, or (as above) fording a creek.  I've only allowed him to do this a couple of times.  On the day pictured above we were hiking a trail, he was in jacket, and had already done some nice work indicating changes of surface and such.  We came to the water and he sat obediently, assuming he wouldn't be allowed to get wet.  When I took off his jacket and let him follow me across he was thrilled!

Alfie in blue jacket, standing very erect watching a crouched and angry-looking cat hissing at us from the grass near the sidewalk where we were walking

While working, Alfie's usually been pretty good at remaining calm under pressure.  The ballistic kitty shown here didn't want to let us pass -- she growled, hissed, and spat.  You can tell Alfie's interested!  But he "left it" really well.  We had a similar incident Tuesday when we stopped by a used I opened the door to walk in, we were "charged" (albeit in a friendly way) by a black standard poodle.  The big guy was wearing a leash, but still escaped his person in his frenzy to greet us (and NO, we were definitely not expecting to see another dog inside a bookstore!)  I stepped on his leash and he was reclaimed, with apologies.  Alfie was QUITE EXCITED.  Still, he was able to get back "in the zone" reasonably quickly and worked all right for the remainder of our bookstore visit (he did air-sniff a lot, but who can blame him?) 

Alfie in his jacket, sitting in front of a creek; he wasn't allowed to get wet this time!

He's funny when I leave him with the family...apparently, while I'm gone he pretty much remains "on watch" near  the window the whole time.  Last night I had to attend a meeting at church and he stayed home with the kids.  I was happy to see him bouncy and playful as I left.  When I got back turned out that the moment I left he'd flopped down and showed no further interest in doing anything during my absence.  When I got back I was surprised to find him happily standing in front of the door, tail waving.  The kids said that about four minutes before, he'd jumped up from where he was lying, barked once, and went to stand at the door...and, yes, it so happens that four minutes is approximately the time it takes me to drive home!  Do you know, I have NEVER believed those weird animal stories before, but am beginning to wonder...what do these dogs sense that we don't understand?

Although I'll miss him, I know he'll settle in to his new place just fine.   In fact, he'll bond much more closely with his future partner than he ever has with me.  That's just the nature of the working team!  And if so...what a team they'll be, don't you think?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's All Happening So Quickly

So, as I announced yesterday, our family's moving to Missouri and since our school happens to be Guide Dogs of Texas...Alfie's going to leave us and stay with another raiser until advanced training.  I spoke with my supervisor, Larry, on the phone today and it looks like things are arranged for Alfie to be picked up Monday.  BIG SIGH...

But today, I don't really want to dwell on goodbyes.  I'm excited to hear that GDTx' first pick of raiser for Alfie said yes!  I don't believe I've met her, and don't even know her name.  What I do know is that she's not only raised puppies successfully for GDTx (before I started volunteering there), she's also an experienced animal trainer of another type:  she used to work with marine mammals at Sea World.  Sounds like a great place for Alfie, don't you think? 

Alfie's sitting, smiling, looking up, in front of a rack of publications at the library
From dolphins to doodles!

 Things have been incredibly hectic around the house.  One of the reasons I went ahead and arranged for Alfie to leave so soon is that he's been picking up on all the stress and upheaval as we pack, meet with realtors, etc...nothing severe, but he's been having some tummy issues.  Poor guy, he has no way to know or understand what's going on!  That tends to make me feel guilty, which he also is probably picking up on...a vicious cycle.  Also, although he's been going places with me, I obviously haven't had the time to devote to his obedience work and training like I normally would. 

I was clearing out a cupboard today and prepping it for refinishing (hence the dust on the floor)...came back and guess who was inside?

Alfie's curled comfortably inside the cupboard area under the sink
They'll have trouble selling this house:  Severe doodle infestation under the sink!

So many fun Alfie memories.  Two stand out today:

One of the most entertaining (and useful) things about this guy is how naturally good he is at finding things.  When we misplace something, he can often find it for us.  Wednesday night Charissa was getting him ready for our walk and noticed his leash wasn't hanging on its peg.  After asking Alfie where it was, she thought of looking in the garage and opened the garage door.  Alfie darted in, threaded his way through piles of boxes (you can definitely tell we're packing!)... then he turned around and pointed his nose up to the top of a particular stack...the leash was way at the top of a stack of 4 boxes.  There was no way for him to see it -- I'm guessing he either smelled it, or remembered its being left there earlier.  I'm sure it would've taken us forever to think of looking there if it hadn't been for Alfie's help! 

Alfie can also get very excited during play and will occasionally chase, and catch, his tail.  I used to worry that that meant he was too high strung...but as time went on I realized that he seems to be mainly doing it to make us laugh!  I imagine he'll outgrow that eventually.  I've always wanted to catch it on video but when I get the camera out he stops!  Go figure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Now for the BIG News

As some might remember, Alfie's scheduled evaluation date is January 2011 -- the same time as Bob, Celia, Petey, and Piper.  So "goodbye" was always just around the corner.  But recent events have accelerated that timeline...our family is moving out of state early next month, and so Alfie will be moving to another raiser home for his last couple of months as a puppy-in-training.

I'm kneeling at Alfie's side, buckling the chest strap of his jacket as we prepare for a walk
Yes, we're looking forward to our new venture for many reasons!  I'm so proud of my husband Tim, who is going to be focusing on finishing grad school (the main reason behind our move).  The whole family is excited that we'll be living in Springfield, MO -- near my Mom, my brother's family, a dear aunt and uncle, plus other friends!  The only hard part, of course, is saying goodbyes:  to family here in Texas, to our wonderful church family, to friends, to GDTx...and, yes, to one special doodle.

It's tough for me to let go of Alfie:  somehow, with each successive guide dog pup I've raised, it seems that the bond has been deeper.  Alfie has such an uncanny way of "reading" me, and quite a flair for 2-way communication!  Aside from my emotions, however, it's also hard to turn over a "project" in which I am so invested.  Maybe that's just my perfectionist/controlling streak...I'm sure that another raiser will do their best, just as I have, and Alfie will turn out fine.

The GDTx team is working on selecting Alfie's new raiser home, and I'll keep you updated!  I don't yet know exactly when he'll leave.  But until he does, I thought it would be fun to do a few posts on what I'll remember most about my time with Alfie.  Stay tuned!

I've got my arm over Alfie as we sit on a limestone block together; we're both smiling and looking up

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We Now Interrupt Your Regular Alfie Programming present to you:  Poppy's puppies! 

looking down into the whelping box, you can see Poppy, a light yellow lab with darker ears and very dark eyes, surrounded by several of her 8 tiny puppies

This is the very first GDTx-bred litter.  Pretty historic!  Poppy comes from excellent guide dog lines and was imported from the UK.  She had a bit of a rough start, as her plane was delayed by the Iceland volcano, then when she finally did arrive it took her a while to adjust to our way of talking here in Texas (not kidding about that -- even dogs notice the difference between a British accent and a Southern drawl, y'all!)  But she has settled in beautifully, has a lovely temperament, and is the picture of everything you could want her puppies to be.
Poppy nursing her brood; they're in all shades of yellow from dark reddish to light whitish yellow
I also love the fact that the puppies' dad, Fire, is a brother to our 1st GDTx pup, Willie!  Well, okay, so they're half brothers, but still it's pretty cool.  Willie's now a working guide and we are so proud of him...if these puppies inherit that same drive, intelligence and work ethic they'll be amazing. 

Gratuitous Willie picture below for your enjoyment!  That's me in the blindfold, probing forward with my foot to investigate the GIANT curb he's indicating for me.  Doesn't he look pleased with himself?  Yes I AM prejudiced, but you must agree, this guide dog is terrific!

Willie in harness with me in blindfold; his front toes are on the edge of a curb that's at least 12 inches high and he is waiting, looking up at me with a happy face

The kids and I got to visit Poppy's brood this past Saturday, when they were 10 days old.  We got to snuggle them...

Charissa in yellow hospital gown and gloves holding an adorable little yellow lab puppy whose eyes are tightly shut; his face is roundish and wrinkly weigh them...

rear view of a pup with red collar sort of lurching around on a white scale

...and just enjoy them! 

Katharine's all smiles as she holds one of the babies!

The puppies are in a window of vulnerability to some doggie virus or other that Mama doesn't have immunity for.  So that's why we suited up like we were in an ICU: better safe than sorry.  Don't worry, they won't have to live in a bubble forever!

I saved the best pic for last:  right before we left we were sitting around a table cuddling puppies and chatting with Tracy (who really deserves a MEDAL for all her round the clock effort!!)  I looked over at Charissa's puppy and...
Closeup of adorable light yellow puppy in Charissa's arms; there is darker pigment accenting his facial features; his right eye has just come open, his pink tongue is out, and he's got these tiny perfect paws and toenails.

...its eye just opened!  So precious!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Alfie's A Winner!

...And here he is sporting his winnings:  a custom-made collar from Mimi and Cabana's birthday giveaway!  We've enjoyed following Mimi and Cabana's journey on their terrific blog, Ours for a Lifetime.  Mimi is also a talented crafter with a delightful online boutique, Sheekoo  (very fun to check out, by the way!)  Which is probably why she can do amazing things like effortlessly whip out adorable dog collars!

Even working dogs have a fun 'bout this sporty orange collar?
Here's a better picture of the collar from the side...sturdy nylon webbing with accent material stitched on top.

It also has pretty heavy-duty fittings, all nice and secure.  The pattern's great for a boy dog, all trucks and stuff, and there's even a dog riding in the back of one of the trucks...

We like the orange.  When we got Alfie as a baby puppy he wore an orange collar and they called him "orange boy!"  Plus, with Austin being the home of the UT Longhorns, you just can't go wrong with that color.  So...maybe it's not quite regulation...but he's enjoying it for the time being! 

...Thank you Mimi!

Is someone getting tired of posing for pictures?!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Good Thinking

Alfie walking in his jacket at my side, happy look on his face, tail high and wagging
I LOVE to work!

Had to laugh during today's walk when I noticed Alfie was paying better attention to our work than I was!  We were working at a new location (Sports Authority) and came to the section where they had row upon neatly arranged row of bikes for sale.  Great place to practice turns and "watch me."  So we were working our way through this rubber-tire-smelling maze and Alfie was doing great when I asked him to turn left into the next row.  He snorted loudly and refused, giving me one of his...well...looks.  I thought he was just being stubborn and repeated my command.  He refused again, this time sitting down rather decisively to emphasize his point.  That's when I actually took the trouble to look down that see that way down the opposite end of that row, someone had pulled one of the bikes out into the aisle and it effectively blocked the path.  Since the aisles were so narrow (no room to turn around), I'd have either had to roll the bike out of the way, or we'd have both had to back out the way we came.  I had to laugh out loud at myself for missing that...and was pretty happy with Mr. Alf for avoiding the obstacle!

I can't say that all Alfie's mental activity is quite that commendable, though.  One of the things I worry about is his poor tolerance for boredom.  I was down with some type of virus for a couple of days and was treated to such attention-getting pranks as this...

Alfie at the back glass door looking very handsome EXCEPT for the fact that in his mouth he's holding a small cookie can that he snagged from a living room chair
Heh heh, look who's got your Chips Ahoy now!

He didn't actually try to chew the can of cookies open or anything, he just wanted to flaunt it at me so I'd notice and play with him.  Not exactly what you want when you're in bed snuffling and sniffing...sigh!  So for the next day or so Charissa gave him some extra backyard training sessions, and we made sure he was stocked with chew toys to keep him busy.  That seemed to work pretty well.

So yeah, ups and downs...but overall I think he's coming along!

In the GREAT NEWS category for GDTx...their 1st ever brood, yellow lab Poppy, gave birth this morning to a fantastic litter of 8 gorgeous puppies.  5 girls and 3 boys, the "A" litter is getting the GDTx breeding program off to a great start!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Happy Birthday!

closeup of Alfie's face as an 8-wk-old puppy; he's lying down with his head on the rug

A year old already?  Seems like just yesterday we were bringing home this little guy...

Alfie in the backyard at 8 weeks; he's just a little round mass of chocolate curls with tiny tail arched over his back and an inquisitive look on his face

...and now he's getting so grown up!

Alfie today, much bigger and leaner looking; he's jacketed, in a down stay next to a clear pond and has a happy, relaxed smile on his face

My birthday wish for Alf?  That he'll have a long and happy life working...and playing...with someone he loves!

What Happens...

...when the Live Music Capital of the World meets the Guide Dog Capital of Texas? 

You get this!

...a giant hip hop concert (downtown Austin, Oct. 23) benefiting the GDTx Pawsitive Approach Prison Program...

All proceeds go toward a very good cause!