Today we attended a graduation ceremony for Guide Dogs. It was a great experience. 6 dogs, with their new blind partners, graduated. This was a class that went through a new trial program they are doing -- usually, there are 12 students and it takes 4 weeks, with 4 students per instructor. They have tried this new system of 6 students, 2 weeks, 2 students per instructor. They weren't sure how it would go - but it turns out that, at least with this group, it was very successful.
At the graduation, the puppy raisers (standing behind the seated graduates in the photo) walk the dog across the stage and present the dog to the blind partner (although, the blind partner had already been working with and bonding with the dog for several weeks). The blind graduate talks, the puppy raisers talk, etc. All very sweet and emotional.
It is amazing to see how firmly bonded the dogs and their new blind partners are. You can see that they have started to become a true team - even in just such a short time together. Several of the blind graduates talked about how much they trusted their dog already -- truly, trusting the dog with their lives. They were from all over the US and Canada. Everyone from a highschool student about to go to college, a kindergarten teacher, and a competitive swimmer. What adventures these dogs are about to embark upon!
Of course, we are nearing the time when Honeydew will head back to campus for her training. I think today's adventure was a good way for us all to start getting in the right frame of mind for the next step in her journey. As we walked around the campus, I could imagine her doing the same walk with her trainers, and eventually (knock on wood) her new blind partner.
Guide Dogs recently put out a new video - which I think is a great summary of the amazing things these dogs can do as part of a team with their blind partner (click link above). The ladies in the video at about 3:00 minutes in have the BEST job...they volunteer to come and handle the baby puppies each day, so that they get used to having their feet, ears and mouths touched from day one. They also brush the puppy's teeth. How cool! But, I'm a sucker for baby puppy breath.