Elliott went back to Leader Dog for his formal training two weeks ago. Because his "other mom" (aka my co-raiser Ashley) had broken her wrist in June and wasn't physically able to handle him while she was in a cast, he spent most of the past few months with me, which was fine since he had entered that stage where the training was mostly done and he was nothing but a pleasure to live with. I got really used to having my little buddy there all the time. For me, there is always something comforting about having a puppy eager to jump up into the car and go with me. They don't care where we're going; they just want to go. I love looking down at them sleeping while I'm driving. All is right in the world when there's a quiet puppy sleeping on the passenger seat floor while I'm driving home.
Elliott spent a couple of days with Ashley right before he went back to Leader, and my car was EMPTY. I mean, really empty. It was very sad to think that it was going to be empty for a long time. I tried to think about how nice it would be to have a break -- a quiet house, ability to take vacation without worrying about finding someone to watch three dogs (exponentially more of a pain in the ass than watching two dogs, especially when the two dogs are middle-aged and low-energy and the third dog is an energetic young retriever), a little bit of peace for Will, who would prefer to have only one dog in the house although he has accepted the fact that I like living with a pack and that I will always be involved with puppy raising off and on. All those things were things that I was trying to look forward to, but instead I just thought about the empty house and car.
I had just filled out my application for a replacement puppy and on it I had said "February 2018" as the date for when I would be able to take another puppy. The application also asked about breed preferences. This is what I put in that section:
1 -- male golden
2 -- male Lab/golden cross
3 -- female golden
4 -- female Lab/golden cross
5 -- shepherd male or female
Labs are great dogs and great guide dogs, and I love them, but I didn't want one. For one thing, raising Elliott reminded me how much I love living with a golden. They are so sweet, so cuddly, so willing to work with people, so gentle when taking treats, and so BEAUTIFUL. Maybe I'm shallow, but I love their long, fluffy coats and their beautiful tails. When we're talking about living with a dog, I just like a dog with more coat than a Lab has. Also, I really didn't want a female. Yes, boys turn into leg-lifting, girl-obsessed idiots when they get to be adolescents, but females come into heat. Yuck. So I was pretty definite about no Lab. And then this Lab became available.
She was a little bit older than puppies typically are when raisers get them because she had already been out with a raiser for a little while. The first raiser couldn't continue raising her. I don't know the details, but let me just say here that I would never judge anyone for deciding they had to leave the puppy raising program. Puppy raising is a ton of hard work and can take a toll on relationships, hobbies, and your sanity. Trust me, I know. I would much rather someone admit it when they knew they needed to leave the program and allow the puppy to be placed somewhere else where it has the chance to achieve its potential. Anyway, I saw this puppy, who happened to be a female yellow Lab, exactly what I didn't want, and was smitten right away, against my will. It was a combination of her concentration on her handler -- very unusual for a puppy of that age -- and, honestly, her looks. She is a really beautiful Lab puppy -- heavy bone, dark wheat color, beautiful expressive brown eyes, and an adorable roly-poly gait. I had to ask who she was, and that's when I found out she was going to need a raiser. I said, "I want her." Forget the fact that I had trips planned, forget the fact that I was in class with a week to go and Will was on the road, forget the fact that I knew Will was looking forward to a break from puppy stuff. I wanted her and I was going to take her, the end.
And that was how Sonora came to be my current Future Leader Dog. I picked her up on a Sunday, the morning of my half-day off of class, which also happened to be a puppy training day at Leader and ALSO happened to be the date of Elliott's formal return. I had Sonora at 9:00 a.m., took her through puppy training that morning, left her in my room at Leader while I worked with clients in the afternoon, met Ashley to return Elliott at 4:00 p.m., and spent my first evening with Sonora driving down to the Packard Plant to take abandoned-factory-at-sunset pictures. She was a trooper, riding down without complaint in the back of my car and hanging out while I took pictures. That set the stage for her first week with me. It was totally not an ideal first week since I was wrapped up with class. I spent some nights at Leader, some at home. I had the other two dogs since Will was on the road, so I was constantly juggling taking care of my dogs and doing class stuff.
Sonora is named for the Sonoran Desert, of course. (I said my next puppy would be named Tucson, but that's really more of a male dog name than a female name.) She is a great puppy. She jumped right into our life with enthusiasm and made herself at home.
She is a completely different puppy than Elliott -- more confident, and much more determined and strong-willed, but equally skilled at making us laugh. Even as a little puppy, Elliott never really got into anything in the house, but Sonora is the type who would grab the dangling end of toilet paper and run gleefully through the house unfurling it if she got the chance. She thinks metal bowls are things to be played with. (If they're full of water, that just makes them more fun.) She spotted the hole in the baby gate that allows the cat to access the cat food and litter box, and without hesitation leaped through the hole, which was only slightly larger than her body, and was elevated so she actually had to jump (future agility dog, maybe?) and launched like a torpedo face first into the cat food, throwing cat food in all directions as she tried to wolf it down as fast as possible while Frieda, Duncan, and the cat looked on in horror. So in a lot of ways, she is nothing like Elliott, but in the most important ways, there are similarities. She is just as cuddly as him. She is just as willing to learn as he was (and, sorry, Elliott, she seems to be much smarter than him too). And when I open the door of my car, she's just as eager to jump in and go wherever I'm going as he was. All is right in my life when there's a puppy in it.