It happens over and over. My husband and I tell people we are raising Argo for Southeastern Guide Dogs and most ask, “How will you give him up?”
The “lasts” began the week before Argo’s In For Training (IFT) date—our last walk around the neighborhood, to the gym, and to the park. Argo’s took his last romp with Jack, our son’s English Labrador retriever, Murphy, and Annie, our next-door-neighbor’s dog. Argo’s life in Tennessee was ending and his new life at the training center in Palmetto, Florida would soon begin.
Neighborhood children came over to say goodbye. One seven-year-old cried to her mother, “I don’t want Argo to go.” The young man who used to dog-sit Argo for us, came over to bid Argo farewell. My niece came with her children to wish Argo a safe journey.
I stored some of Argo’s things away—his toys, his toenail clippers, and his toothbrush and chicken-flavored toothpaste. His food, sleeping pad, crate, and bowls were needed for the trip, but then? Saved for when our granddogs come to visit, I guess. I left Argo’s nose smudges on my office windowpane.
It was a two-day trip to Palmetto, FL. Upon arriving, we met Argo’s sponsors from Tree Lakes Resort who had held a walkathon to raise the necessary $3500 to sponsor and name Argo. They wanted to see Argo, and Phil and I were happy to meet them.
That night, Phil, Argo, and I all went to bed at the motel with Argo on his mat on the floor. The next morning he came to our bedside as usual, tail wagging, to usher in the day. We had to be at Southeastern Guide Dog Inc. (SEGDI) by 8:00 a.m. for the ceremony.
Fog lingered on the pastures as we drove to the SEGDI campus. The first canines we saw there were Marti and Blue, Argo’s brothers, and Bruelle, his sister. It was amazing how much they looked alike! Later, during lunch at the Crab Trap, we compared notes about how none of these siblings liked the water.
The ceremony began and the puppy raising coordinator called the dogs and puppy raisers up one by one to say goodbye to our dogs. Argo’s collar was slipped off and he licked us goodbye. It wasn’t easy.
The program moved quickly along. There were about 20 returning dogs and the puppy raisers and their families came from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, but most were from Florida. We listened to a series of speakers—a guide dog user, the person in charge of veteran’s programs, and one of the trainers. We toured the campus. We took a blindfold walk holding to a harnessed dog. We met two people who were sight-impaired and were using guide dogs. They were both also raising potential guide dog puppies.
We met the new puppies in the campus puppy kennel area. Then, we picked up Chance, a 12-week-old, male, black Labrador retriever and hit the road back to Franklin. Someone else in our Nashville group is raising Chance, but he surely was a comfort to us on our journey home.
Would we raise another puppy?
We might, but first we want to make sure Argo is healthy and started on a career path. Out of 100 dogs, 70 will go into some kind of service, 27 will be released, and 3 will become breeding dogs. Dogs are extensively tested for suitability for programs via CARAT assessment tools. Dogs that are released either go back to the puppy raiser or are offered for public adoption.
Naturally, part of me wants Argo to come back. We miss him, but a dog that intelligent, healthy, and good-natured has a lot of potential. He could do so much more than just go for a walk, play, and sleep under our care. Still, he has to want to be a guide dog. Professional trainers can tell.
Back home, I walked through the backyard gate with Chance. The fact that Argo wasn’t there hit me like a tree falling. There was no big white dog running around, just stillness and quiet. Overwhelmed, I sat on a rock with little Chance who licked my face. I cried.
I miss Argo most in the mornings when I get up. It was the time I always greeted him, rubbed his tummy, and fixed his breakfast. Also, I miss him when I come into the house from anywhere. He was always the first to greet me at the door and became ecstatic when Phil came in from work or a workout. It is a hard act to follow. (As one of the speakers said in his talk to our group of puppy-raisers in FL, if you accidently locked your dog and your spouse in the trunk of your car, who would be the most glad to see you?)
Training and caring for Argo has been an invaluable experience. If he makes it all the way to a guide dog, we will be so proud of him! If he doesn’t, we have still learned a lot about dogs and received a lot of affection from this pup. We have enjoyed sharing him with our family, neighbors, friends, and even strangers. He has received training, a good home, and love from us. SEGDI has received their dog back ready for training. Argo will find his niche for his adult life.
Everyone wins in the end. No regrets.