Two days prior to graduation, I was able to connect with Carol, Reyna's handler on the phone. She was a very nice lady from Alabama and Reyna is her second guide. She is a rehabilitation teacher for the blind and she works for the State of Alabama teaching braille, O&M, computers and independent living skills both in home and at a center. I was excited to hear she was employed and worked everyday. This is the first time one of my pups has gone with someone who worked, so I was very happy about that. She has two masters degrees, one in education and another in theological studies. We talked on the phone briefly, but we kept getting disconnected. We had a very upbeat conversation, and she was an outgoing, friendly person. She liked that Reyna was a very well mannered dog, and she also loved that Reyna had a kick to her personality when she was not in harness. Carol said she had exactly the same personality! She said that when people meet her they think that she is very nice and good with people, but as you get to know her, she has a kick to her personality as well. She was so impressed with Reyna's guide work as well. She did share with me that her first guide died tragically, but I will not go into that here on the blog. Carol was very happy that we were all coming to Oregon for the graduation.
We all met in the visitors center then shortly after we were escorted by GDB staff into the dorm. I was totally fine until we started walking to the dorm and I started thinking about seeing Reyna again and I could not hold back the tears. They put each family in separate rooms which was so nice. Reyna's following (all eight of us) gathered in the computer/ reading room which was a pretty big room. Yes, it was obvious by the number of people there that Reyna was loved! A trainer then came in and told us Reyna and Carol would be there shortly. He also told us what a great job we did raising Reyna and what a wonderful guide dog she has become. Then the moment came and Reyna and her partner entered the room.
It was really nice because Reyna was not in harness, and she was allowed to just go nuts! I greeted Reyna's handler and she immediately handed me the leash.
As soon as that happened Reyna was jumping with excitement and she was giving me all kinds of kisses. She was moving so fast that she blurred the pictures
She had a huge smile on her face and she was so happy she almost jumped in my lap. Then she went to each person who was there and did the same thing. She went up to every person as if she was saying "Oh my gosh, you came too" and then she would turn the next person and the next person until she greeted all eight of us! She really was beside herself with happiness.
She kept coming back over to me and giving me her paw. She insisted that I hold her paw, and if I let go she would put it back in my hand. Check out that tail!
Then she would put her head in my lap. Then she would roll over on her back for a belly rub.
Then she decided she needed to give us all kisses.
After all of the kisses, Reyna snuggled in Tyler's (my son) lap and she fell asleep. She was so content to be in his lap again. He just sat there on the floor with her for a long time.
I really appreciated how Reyna's handler just turned over the leash and let her be happy and excited to see us. Seeing Reyna so happy made her handler very happy and that was so good to see. After we visited for a while her handler gave us each a book (that had to do with dogs) and in the inside cover she wrote us all a special message.
The book I got was The Art of Racing in the Rain. Inside the front cover it said:
Your love and careful training of Reyna has really helped to create a marvel of a guide dog! I am so privileged to have this great gift. Thanks to each of you for being willing to let her come to me after you have invested so much time, energy, consistency, love and devotion to her training. With deep gratitude...
I cannot express how much that meant to us that she wrote a special note for each of us and she really understood the roles we all played in co-raising Reyna together. It didn't take her much time to write that, but the impact it had on all of us made it worth it for us to raise her and then give her up.
In fact, it was so good to see the bonding that had taken place between Reyna and her handler. Reyna could not take her eyes off of her, not even for a second for a picture!
It was so clear that Reyna was happy and that meant so much to me. I went from feeling a little sad to feeling so much joy for both Reyna and her handler. I asked Reyna's handler what she asked for when she applied for her second dog and her trainer said she asked for "Reyna". He said it was that good of a match!
We had some gifts for her and Reyna also, so we gave her those. I made a photo book of Reyna's puppy-hood and she LOVED it.
She still has some sight in one eye (tunnel vision) so she could actually she the photos! Reyna's trainer was with us most of the time and he really enjoyed looking at the photo book.
Then Reyna got about seven brand new toys, and she was happy about that! We continued to visit for quite some time. During this time, Reyna's trainer started telling us about training her. He was clearly in love with Reyna and he kept going over to her for kisses and affection. He said he had been training guide dogs for 13 years, and Reyna was one of his favorite dogs he has ever trained.
He even had a nickname for her, he called her Rey Rey. The emotional connection between the two of them was so strong. He said Reyna was one of the easiest dogs he has ever trained and that she learned everything the first time he showed her. He told us about a time when he was teaching her over head obstacles, and he showed her what to do with the clicker one time and she had it. Usually they pattern the dogs over and over again for the proper response, but not Reyna. She was such an over achiever. He said once he introduced the clicker, she progressed at warp speed.
I guess that explains how she went through training and class in 2.5 months! Her trainer also told us that when they do final testing on the dogs there is a rating scale they use. He said Reyna passed all of her final tests at the highest level possible! Wow, that was pretty neat to hear. But he said she failed her first obedience test because she did the command before he asked for it. LOL. Yup, she is our little over achiever! He laughed as he told as about that! He felt so strongly that Reyna and her handler were a perfect match and he really wanted me to know that.
He said they had 12 class ready dogs and they had narrowed it down to 9 dogs for this class. They needed six dogs. He said there was never any question about what dog Reyna's handler would receive. He just verified the pace was right, and it was a done deal! He also told us stories about going into the kennel in the morning and how Reyna insisted that she worked with him first. She loved the work that much. He said a lot of the dogs do that, but Reyna was much more convincing then the other dogs, and it made her so happy, so he would take her first. He said she had such a love of learning that it made his job so easy. He asked me to raise another dog just like her and send her up to Oregon!
We got our photos taken then we went into the auditorium for the graduation. There were six graduates and we were the first ones up.
Reyna's handler said a few words, and myself and one of my co-raisers spoke.
I said something along the lines of when you raise these pups and they return to GDB we miss them all like crazy. But then, there are some dogs who you not only miss, but who leave a huge void in your heart. Reyna was one of those dogs. I expressed my happiness and joy, and told Reyna's handler that I know losing her first guide left a huge void in her heart and I think GDB picked the perfect dog to begin to fill that void back up again.
I LOVED the Oregon graduation so much more than San Rafael. Having now participated in graduations on both campuses, Oregon is so much more personable and much less systematic.
After graduation, we hung out with Reyna and her handler and I got to see Reyna work a little bit. She was totally amazing!
We had planned on taking Reyna and her handler out to dinner after graduation. The GDB staff suggested a restaurant for us. There were two other graduates who were by themselves. One of them did not have his puppy raisers there and the other one did have her raisers there but they had to leave shortly after the graduation. So we decided to invite both of them along for dinner so they weren't left by themselves in the dorm. They were Mojave's handler and Novak's handler. So we all went out to a very nice dinner. It was the first time all three of the handlers had taken their dogs out on their own. It was really exciting.
I cracked up when we got to the restaurant because the first thing all of the graduates did was order a beer! I guess they couldn't drink while they were in class and they were so happy to have a drink! We all visited for a couple of hours over dinner, and all of the dogs were so well behaved. It was fun getting to know everyone.
As we left the restaurant, it became clear why Reyna was the star of her class. Her guidework and confidence was so far beyond what would be normal for a new guide. She has super high initiative, and you can see how proud of herself she is as she does her job correctly.
We dropped everyone off back at the dorm and then it was time to say goodbye. That was hard for us, but we knew we would see both of them again as Reyna's handler invited us to come to Alabama! I heard from Reyna's handler yesterday and she told me about their flight home and how free she felt as they walked through the airport. They hit the ground running the day after they got home and they went to work. Reyna did well, but I think it was a bit too much of a change for her because she developed diarrhea the next day. Probably just stress from all of the newness. Her handler is going to call me in a few days to let me know how she is doing, and she decided to take a few days off of work to let Reyna adjust to her new environment.
That is it for now! We are so proud of Reyna and we are excited for her and Carol to start their lives together!