Last June, I had to give Nisha up. I knew she was going away for a good cause , but she took a piece of my heart with her since I'd raised her from a puppy and watched her grow.
It all started when I was on a summer camping trip with my family. Mom and I were walking on a trail and talking about finding an activity that I could get involved with to meet other kids and take on a responsibility.Mom said when she was young, she grew up in a "4-H family". All of her brothers and sisters belonged to a local 4-H group that she loved to bits .
The very next day, down by the lake, I saw a girl walking a puppy by the dock. The dog was wearing a green jacket. I ran over and introduced myself. She told me her dog was a guide dog puppy in training for the blind, and that she was doing this through her 4-H club in California. We talked a while longer, and then I ran to the cabin to tell my mom what I wanted to do.
Just before school started, we found out the name of the 4-H guide dog group. After I filled out the application to be a guide dog raiser, two leaders came to the house to interview me and my family. They wanted me to know what a big responsibility it is to raise a guide dog puppy, and I assured them that I would do a great job.
We got a call in January that our puppy was coming soon - a female yellow Labrador . I could barely wait. When Dad and I picked her up, I melted. She was the cutest, prettiest dog I'd ever seen. From the moment I saw her, I knew she was going to be the best guide dog ever.
Her name is Nisha, the trainer said. I smiled and hugged her tight.
When I started working with Nisha, I learned right away how intelligent dogs are. Guide dog puppies seem to know that they are special and were born to do special work. As a puppy raiser, your main job is to love the puppy, teach them basic house rules, and socialize them - by exposing them to different situations and taking them to as many different places as you can. Nisha loved to ride in the car, and she loved to meet kids. I was allowed to take her anywhere a trained guide dog could go, including in stores, on the bus and to school.
Nisha had Groucho Marx eyebrows. She had a way of cocking her head and wiggling her eyebrows that made me giggle. Nisha was also a good listener. Whenever I felt I needed to talk to someone, Nisha was always there. She loved to get her belly rubbed. I'd sit on the floor, and she'd come up to me and do a somersault between my legs.
As the year slipped by, Nisha bonded with the whole family, and we knew the day was coming when she'd have to go back for an intensive, five- month guide-dog training, the last month on site with her new partner.
When it was time, we took her on her last car ride with us, and I dropped her off with the campus trainer. I gave her a long, good-bye hug. I was very sad, but at the same time, I knew she was going to help someone.
Five months went by, and along the way, I got news that Nisha was passing each of the five phases she needed to in order to become a trained guide dog. In mid-May, I received the official letter that announced Nisha was to graduate as a working guide, and that she would be placed with a blind woman named Audrey. I was invited to present Nisha to Audrey at the graduation ceremony.
My family and I got up early to drive the two hours to the campus. I was so excited to see Nisha again! When they brought Nisha out, she looked the same - just a little bit bigger. She still had that reddish, golden color that made her so pretty. She was very happy to see us. We got to meet Audrey before the ceremony. She was 72 years old and a bookkeeper at a bowling alley in a town near Seattle, Washington. We could all tell how much she and Nisha loved each other.
Before graduation, I stood in a single file line with eleven other puppy raisers. By our side, on leash , were our dogs. Audrey and the other graduates sat up on stage. One of the schools' trainers welcomed everyone in the overflow audience, and gave a short speech. Then, one by one, a graduate stood, and their puppy raiser walked their dog up on stage and handed off the leash. Each dog knowingly sat and waited for their next command. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. When it was my turn, Audrey thanked me for raising Nisha. It felt so good to know I'd played a part to help Audrey "see".
It was time to go home again, and I gave Nisha and Audrey one more hug. As we left, I looked back and Nisha was looking straight at me - then she looked up at Audrey. She knew her job, and I knew they'd make a great team.