To All the Dogs I’ve Loved Before

by Saxon Eastman

There’s no role in life I covet more than puppy raiser. What better way to learn honesty, integrity and connection than through the unconditional love of a dog? It’s said, “mother always knows best”—or maybe in this case it’s “raiser”—but you’ve all taught me time and again that often the best plan is the one you don’t plan for.

Saxon, Boulder and Jose

To Boulder — No matter how prepared I thought I was, I had no idea how hooked on puppy raising you would make me. Prior to you rolling into my life, I spent countless hours at puppy classes, meeting with Boston College administrative personnel and reading all the puppy raising documents I could find. I always knew you had it in you to be a guide dog—you try harder than any other dog I know, fearlessly take on whatever comes your way and were by far my favorite classmate—and even though sometimes you acted like your head was full of rocks, you did all of this while maintaining the best sense of humor of any dog I know. Sure enough, you graduated right on time, and when your new handler, Jose, said to me, “Boulder is more than just a dog, he’s a part of me,” I knew that you had found your place and your person.

Saxon and Vinny

To Vincent — Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favorite. There was a time when I was certain there was no other option for you than to become a guide dog, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I did what I could to control your chronic ear infections, but the allergies won and at 11 months old you were released from training and shortly thereafter became my pet. The onslaught of sadness and disappointment that you wouldn’t be a guide dog coupled with the happiness of knowing you were now forever by my side was new and confusing to me. I think deep down I always knew that you were meant for me though, and in the years that have passed since that time you have helped me socialize four more service dog puppies. You’ve also stolen my food, my spot on the couch, and more than your fair share of the bed. But most importantly, you’ve been the rock that helped me keep my head above water when I needed an extra boost. You continue to be of the greatest service to me, without being a service dog at all.

Wrangler… downtime on a paddleboard

To Wrangler — It’s impossible to put into words how special you are to me, but if I am to try, you are a puppy with a purpose who helped me find my purpose. My personal and professional growth were exponential through you and I can’t imagine where I would be today without you. More than any of my other puppies before, I so yearned for you to have success as a guide dog. All eyes were on you, and with lots of love and hard work, you became someone else’s eyes. Your guide dog graduation came and went, but there was always something in me that felt unsettled. Sure enough, you confirmed my suspicions and returned from the field ready to end your career as a guide and try your paw at something new. I was scared for you because I didn’t know much about Connecticut State Police or what life as a detection dog would be. In my mind, I worried that being a working dog might not be for you any longer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. You have the most loving family–Kevin is the best partner I could ever imagine for you. You have a job that makes you truly happy, a lake in your backyard and a boat you get to play on each weekend (what more could a pup want?). I thought you would be the keeper of a single person’s safety, but instead you ensure that everyone riding the MetroNorth New Haven line can travel without risk—which on occasion, even includes me. Thank you for making such a big difference in the world Wrangles.  You’re exceptional.

Jewel with Morgan and Vermont State Police Officer Steve

To Jewel — I thought you were a shoe in for guide work. I’d never raised a dog I had more confidence in because you’re the whole package—fiercely independent and almost too smart for your own good. All your training reports detailed how well you were doing and I was anxiously awaiting the day that I would receive word you had found your match as a guide. To say I was shocked when the “Jewel was released this morning” message came through would be a gross understatement. I thought you were being cheated out of what was meant for you. Maybe you could have been a good guide dog, but you’re a great detection dog and I have no doubt that it is the perfect career for you. Your graduation was the best day of my life. Watching you and your officer, Steve, work together was so enlightening and in all my time as a puppy raiser I have never felt more welcomed and appreciated. You have so much love in your life, a job that feeds your drive and a new mom, Morgan, who has kept up your excellent sense of doggo style. (Search #K9Jewel on Instagram to take a peek at everything she’s up to these days.) You’re my best girl, Jewel, and I couldn’t be happier the Connecticut State Police, Vermont State Police, and most importantly, Steve were there to help you find your purpose.

Miller with Saxon and co-raiser Laura

To Miller—If someone asked me to describe the sweetest dog in the world, I’d tell them about you. You’re gentle, diligent, and there’s nothing I love more than the way you press your head into my chest when I hug you. You made me part of the Canine Companions for Independence family, and if there’s one thing that’s always true across the board it’s that teamwork makes the dream work. At the heart of raising, we are all here for connection—the connection between raiser and dog, between raiser and raiser, and ultimately, between graduate and service dog. With each passing training report I know you are closer to changing the life of an adult or child with a disability as his or her assistance dog. I can’t wait to walk across that graduation stage with you and your co-raiser, Laura, and see you look at your new handler with the same love in your eyes that you have when you look at me. Until then, my Miller, I’m thinking of you.

Saxon and Ranger.  Photo Credit: Zachary Lane/MSG Photo Services

To Ranger — Oh the places we’ll go. The journey has just begun and I’m so honored to be the person to walk by your side down this path. It feels as though I’ve been here, there and everywhere in this world of service dogs, but with you and BluePath, I’ve finally found my way home. Along with our puppy raising community and RangersTown we will work to make the world kinder, softer and more accepting. The bigger the pack, the better the puppy, and you, my little Meatball, have every chance for success. There are so many new and exciting experiences ahead of you, and you’ll create so much awareness as you go. Every step of the way, always in the back of my mind, is the child and family who are waiting patiently for you. I want you to be an autism service dog, but even more than that, I want you to find your place in this world. I want you to be happy, fulfilled and comfortable. I promise to give you the tools you’ll need to figure that out for yourself, and no matter what happens, I’ll always be your #1 fan.

To all the dogs I’ve loved before, thank you for showing me the way while finding your own.

With Love,

Your Puppy Raiser

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