When I used to think of Summer, I thought of boating on the lake and making our yearly trip to the beach. I thought of campfires and days trips and having all my children home under one roof. That is what I USED to think of when I thought of Summer, but most likely now I’ll also be thinking of a yellow labrador/golden retriever cross who is high in energy, stubborn, loyal and packed full of love.
Summer is the dog in the photo. She is petite and full of life. I, on the other hand, am tall and disheveled, having just had my third ugly cry of the morning. The photo was taken just moments before she boarded a van and was placed in a crate. It was the very last time I got to hold my hand to her chest to feel her warm, furry body. It was the last time I whispered, “You go girl. I am cheering you on.” If I sound pathetic, I am. I love that dog with my whole heart and I will not apologize for it.
I received Summer when she was seven-weeks old and she was our families third Seeing Eye puppy. My job as a puppy raiser is teach basic obedience, help foster good house manners, take the puppy to Seeing Eye puppy club meetings and socialization trips in my area and give them loads of love. I essentially am a foster parent and raise them as one of my own till they reach 13-16 months, which at that point, they return to the Seeing Eye Campus in Morristown NJ and continue their journey in becoming a guide dog.
Once back at the Seeing Eye, the dogs under go numerous health screenings to make sure they are in excellent health to work and are matched with a guide trainer who will extensively work with them in teaching them how to guide a blind or seeing-impaired person. If they pass their training (which takes several months), the puppy raiser and family are invited to Morristown to watch them take what is called a “Town Walk.” During these walks, the puppy raiser and family will have no interaction with the puppy they raised and are led through town by a guide at a safe distance behind the dog and their trainer so not to be seen, heard or smelled. As puppy raisers, it is here we get to proudly watch the puppies we raised become guide dogs and demonstrate beautifully what they have learned while at the Seeing Eye Campus. It is here where we say our final goodbyes from a distance and secretly whisper well wishes to them from our hearts and quietly shout praises of “Good Job! Well done.” It is also here where we stand in the intersection of some road in a town we are unfamiliar with and turn and walk away from the dog we raised and love knowing we will most likely never see them in person again.
My husband and I have five children. One by one they have spent the night at Grandma’s house, boarded school buses, attended sleepovers, played sports, went to camps, got invited on trips and worked various jobs. They’ve sat behind the steering wheel and drove to the market for milk, eventually driving hours from home till they found the parking stall on campus or boarded planes and lived in different time zones; living in places I cannot be with them, doing things I cannot do with them. Because I was never meant to. My role as their mother is to raise them up in the best way I know so they can fulfill their purpose confidently, independently, compassionately and a whole other slew of amazing qualities that I know are IN them so they can be WHO they were created to be. Yes, loving them is the easy part. Letting them go so they can BE… is hard. It is gut-wrenching if perspective is not guarded. But letting go is necessary. One by one, my children are teaching me how to let them go. Raising these dogs is no different. It just comes faster with them, becoming yearly for me.
The #1 question I am asked as a puppy raiser is this, “How do you let them go?” It is always followed by, “I couldn’t do it.” I pause before I answer because I understand. Love has a way of wanting us to hold onto what or who we love. We get attached and possessive. We think THEY ARE OURS, but they’re not. They are their own so I look them in the eye and say, “Yes. Yes you could.”
It is what we, the human race, are to do. We are to love generously and indiscriminately while we have breath in our lungs. We are to hold our hands open and empty so we can grab a hold of tightly and then let go. It is a practice we are to make a lifestyle because we will repeat it throughout our life. Love fully. Let go. Love fully. Let go. We are not to love fully and then keep. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. When I try to keep, I set high expectations and eventually set myself up for a heart-break I was never to encounter. When I try to control and micromanage, it makes the inevitable harder. Love fully. Let go.
I am finding it is important to keep proper perspective, to ask “How can I best help YOU fulfill YOUR purpose.” In asking that question, I find I fulfill mine. As helpers, it is part of WHO we are and I believe we are all to be helpers.
Summer left on Tuesday and it’s now Friday and I’m still thinking of her. My heart feels heavy when I dwell on her leaving so instead I consciously choose to dwell on her success. Her success brings a smile to my face and reminds me to pray for her. Our house is quieter and it is cleaner, her hair graced every room but so did her enthusiasm for living, her eagerness to please and serve. She is tender, gentle and loyal to the bone. In my puppy raiser report, I described her as honest. I know she is a dog and dogs cannot talk but her heart talked to me all the time and it was true. She longed for her person and for her first year of life, she thought I was her person. I only told her Tuesday that I wasn’t and I wish I would have told her sooner, but her honest heart loved me just the same. It said it wouldn’t have changed a single thing…
Summer will transition just as I will. She will get used to her life at The Seeing Eye and will enjoy the comradery of the other dogs and will learn to love and trust her amazing trainer and I will patiently wait for my next puppy and do it all over again. Our youngest daughter will then do the same just as her sister before her. Her purpose is to find her person and be their sight and love them as I have loved her and part of my purpose is to keep raising puppies and impart into them a love I have for a stranger I will never meet, but that THEY will. Summer will serve and love them well and I am incredibly honored to be a small part of that.
Whoever they are, they will be given a gift. The dog I raised named Summer surely was one to me. She will go on and do great things. She has taught me once more, just a my children and every other relationship I step into has…
Love fully. Let go.