When our kids were little, they were terrified of dogs. I remember visiting my parents in Dallas, TX one time, and my parents’ golden mix, Amber, had to be quarantined to her crate most of the time we were there, because our daughter, Hannah, was absolutely sure Amber was going to bite her head off. Amber might give her a good lick, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Whenever we visited someone who had a dog, our kids would crawl up our legs into our protective arms to make sure they were safe from the crazy four-legged creatures who were wagging their tails at them.
My wife and I were determined to do something about this phobia. After all, our kids couldn’t live in our protective arms forever. They were growing quickly, and my arms wouldn’t hold them forever. Also, dogs can smell fear. Many times a dog will go after people who are afraid of them. Our kids had to learn how to stand up to the furry four-legged beasts that would cross their paths in the future.
So my wife and I signed up to foster a Seeing Eye puppy. A few weeks after signing up, we received a phone call indicating there was a 8 week old black Labrador puppy waiting just for us. We said yes, and we soon opened our home and our hearts to a square-headed black fur-ball named Iso.
When Iso joined our family, it didn’t take long for our kids to get over their fear of dogs. Soon they were playing with Iso and commanding him not to chew on the furniture, the walls, and their toys.
Iso grew and grew, and our hearts grew fond of the dog despite his early destructive forces. He chewed the paint right off our metal hot water baseboard radiators. He chewed a hole or two in our kitchen cabinets. And he kept us up many nights unhappy that he was chained to our bed. (Seeing Eye puppies are taught to stay close to their “person” at all times, and the training begins with the puppy raisers.)
Iso went with us everywhere. He visited the mall with us. He went camping, and he even went fishing. Actually, we caught him once. This was a terrifying experience for all of us. Somehow his tongue collided with a fishing hook. The squeal he let out was unforgettable. Thankfully, a real fisherman came along with his fishing tools, and we were able to pull the hook out of his tongue.
My wife and I often questioned whether or not he would make it as a Seeing Eye guide dog.
When he was a year and a half, we received a call from the Seeing Eye (in Morristown, NJ). They were ready for Iso, and they were confident that Iso was ready for his official training to become a guide dog. With many tears, we released Iso back to the Seeing Eye where he was matched with a trainer who worked with him for 9 months to prepare his for his purpose – to guide a blind person.
Our family visited the Seeing Eye for Iso’s Town Walk – his final exam. His performance was amazing as he guided his blindfolded trainer through the streets of Morristown. We were sure we would receive word that Iso was matched with a blind person. We waited, and we waited.
While we waited, we moved into a brand new house. Gone were the chew marks that reminded us of our puppy friend.
Shortly after our move, we received a phone call from the Seeing Eye. Due to a large crop of puppies, the Seeing Eye was being more selective, and Iso was being dropped out of the program due to his extreme friendliness. As a puppy raiser, we had the first opportunity to take him back to become our Forever Friend.
I was not so sure this was a good idea. After all, we had just moved into a brand new house, and I was not thrilled about the possibility of having him back in the house where I was sure he would cause havoc. I was not the only one in the family, and I was outvoted three to one.
I made the journey up to Morristown to pick him up. On the way home, we established some ground rules.
When I walked him through the door at our new house, he was quickly embraced and welcomed back into the family.
And honestly despite my initial apprehension, I soon let him into my heart as well.
Iso quickly adjusted to his new digs.
He chased the neighbors cat up a tree one time. I remember chuckling inside as we leaned a ladder up against the tree to rescue the cat. “This dog is crazy!”
One time, I woke up early one morning to find that he had eaten the braided rug that welcomed guests into our front door. This was not a happy moment. It took a few days, but Iso eventually passed the carpet. It’s a little gross but the carpet came out his rear just the same way it went into his mouth. Like I said before, “This dog is crazy!”
We liked having Iso around the house. He always provided the initial rinse of our dishes while I was putting them in the dishwasher. He greeted us with his tail wagging whenever we returned home after trip to church, the grocery store, work, or anywhere else. He was always glad to see us. And he was especially always happy when it was time to eat. One cup of food in the morning, and one cup of food at dinner time. We really didn’t have to have a clock. Iso knew when it was time to eat.
When he was 9 years old, I thought we were going to lose him. I came home from work one night to find out that he had eaten one of my dress shirts I wore to the office. What in the world would make a dress shirt appetizing? I’ll never know. We waited a few days to see if he would pass it, but we soon discovered that Iso was not feeling well. In fact, he seemed to be quite ill. When Leanne took him to the vet, the vet quickly ran an X-ray and discovered a football-sized lump of fabric and other material lodged in his stomach. The vet explained that she had to perform emergency surgery before Iso died. We weren’t given the option of putting him to sleep, and before we knew it, Iso was wearing the cone of shame and our bank account was $3,000 smaller.
Labs are crazy dogs, but they are also loyal and true. Iso loved to be with us when we were home – especially when we were eating popcorn. He hovered around us to make sure we threw several pieces of popcorn his way.
He had a few visits to the vet for various intestinal issues. With a few pills, a bland diet, and some time, he always seemed to bounce back.
The last few years, he became more sedentary. He slept way more than he was awake. He also seemed to be growing some cysts and fatty non-cancerous growths and tumors. The vet didn’t seem to worried about these. As the days and years went on, he slowed down even more. He took his time getting up and lying down. And his hearing seemed to diminish too. But Iso always responded to the word “Treat”. He loved his Milkbones.
Friday afternoon while I was out in the garden and in the shed, Iso seemed to have some type of seizure or stroke, and he couldn’t move or stand without assistance. Our family had some big decisions to make, and the main decision seemed obvious. It wasn’t fair to let Iso suffer any more. He couldn’t stand. He wasn’t interested in eating. His head even moved to his right as he tried to find his equilibrium.
After much thought and discussion, we decided it was Iso’s time. Isaac retreated to his room to let out his emotions. Hannah seemed to be rather understanding and non-emotional about this situation. And Leanne and I struggled to say our goodbyes.
I loaded Iso in the family car, and we journeyed to the 24-hour animal hospital (HOPE) in Malvern, PA. We knew what we had to do, but we know it was going to be hard. The people at HOPE were amazing. They gave us time to be with Iso, and they explained what would happen when they injected him with the chemicals that would end his life.
Iso wouldn’t let the doctor get to his arm where the catheter had been placed, so I had to hold his head while the vet injected the potions. Tears rolled down my face. Leanne and even Hannah were crying, too. (Isaac stayed at home to avoid the trauma of the whole situation.) Iso peacefully left us. After a few minutes with him, we left the hospital in silence.
It’s so hard to say goodbye to those who attach themselves to your heart.
That was Friday.
Today is Tuesday.
We miss Iso. We miss him when we arrive at home to a quiet house. We miss him when we wake up in the morning. And we miss him when we put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Our pets become part of our lives. They can provide some incredible challenges, and they can provide amazing companionship.
Someone on Sunday commented that Iso would be in doggy heaven. I don’t really know if that’s true or not. What I know is that our lives were greatly impacted by the black Labrador who invaded our house over 13 years ago. We will remember him with a smile and perhaps some more tears. We are thankful for the opportunity to have had this furry friend in our family.
And if you are wondering, our kids aren’t afraid of dogs anymore.
Today, our family says goodbye to Cody.
If you remember from a year ago, our family welcomed Cody to our family. To read about his entry into our family, you can click here.
Cody joined our family when he was seven weeks old. He was a tiny light-yellow fur-ball. We knew he would be only joining our family for a short time. He had a purpose, and we were assigned a role in helping him prepare for his purpose.
Cody is a Seeing Eye Puppy. He was bred for the purpose of helping blind or visually impaired people. Our assignment has been to help him grow through his early puppy stages. We were responsible for getting him acclimated to the public. And we were supposed to teach him basic commands like sit, rest, and down.
We’ve taken him to New York City, to our local Target, to the library, to church, on a bus, and on a train.
It hasn’t always been easy. He has chewed a couple of window sills. He left a couple of pee stains. And his yellow hair is dispersed throughout our house.
Today, Cody heads to Morristown, NJ where he will begin the next phase of his journey. He will go through a medical exam. He will be placed with a trainer. He will learn all the essentials for guiding someone who cannot see. And if all goes well, Cody will be matched with a blind person. And Cody will become a guide and friend for someone special.
Saying goodbye is bitter-sweet. It’s tough to say goodbye to our four-legged friend who has certainly captured our hearts. And it’s exciting to know that Cody may have the opportunity to change someone’s life forever.
Cody’s departure is a reminder that there are several things we can learn about goodbyes.
Yesterday afternoon, we gained a new member of our family. Meet Cody. He is a 7 week old lab/retriever cross-breed, and he is being raised to be a Seeing Eye guide dog.
Isaac will be raising and training Cody for about a year until he goes back to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ for more formal training. And we’ve already begun the process of praying that he passes and praying for his eventual companion person.
Obviously, we don’t know how it will turn out (as I shared in yesterday’s post – RePurposed). Based on our last two experiences in the puppy raising program, we understand that it could be a challenge. But we’ve come to realize that it’s worth it. It’s worth starting all over again on the road to raising Cody and helping a blind person in need of his canine eyes. It’s worth the interrupted schedules, the hours of training, and the sadness of separation at the end of the puppy raising period. It’s worth it, because it has the ability to change someone’s life.
When have you faced a challenge that was worth repeating? When have you faced a challenge that had the power to change someone’s life?
I’ve begun the process of removing “suburban chicken farmer” from the list of words or phrases to describe me. Over the past few weeks, my chicken farming experiment has come to a close (at least for now).
Many of you may remember previous posts about my journey into the world of backyard chickens. Almost three years ago, I picked up eight baby chickens from a good friend, and I built my own chicken condominium in our backyard complete with a picture window, a side door, a basement deck, a nesting box, and a 10 foot high roof (what was I thinking?).
As the chicks grew, I anxiously awaited our first egg. I still remember checking on the chickens every day after work to see if we there was a surprise. Eventually that day came! What excitement! I remember saving up the first couple of eggs, so our family could enjoy an egg dish from our own chicken eggs. We made “eggs in a basket” – you cut holes in the middle of slices of bread and fry an egg in the hole.
Since then, we’ve enjoyed hundreds of eggs. And yes, these eggs are way better than the eggs you buy in the store.
But no one told us about the challenges of suburban chicken farming. Do you know that a chicken poops every eight minutes on average? Do you know that chickens need extra light in the winter if you expect them to lay eggs? Do you know that egg production slows down after two or three years? Do you know that chickens need heated water in the winter? We learned all this and more through our journey. We also sadly learned that chickens like heat, but not extreme heat. We lost six of our chickens last summer when temperatures hit record highs – that’s a whole other story.
At any rate, a couple of weeks ago our last two chickens were “stolen” when friends came over and took the hens for a ride to a new backyard setting. My wife and kids had enough of this crazy experiment. And honestly, I was finished with this little hobby as well (at least for now). This weekend, I took down the chicken coop. It was a little bitter-sweet as I reflected on the enthusiasm that initially went into this hobby.
And now, I can concentrate on other adventures. Leanne, what do you think about getting a cow? Just kidding!
What hobbies or activities have you moved away from? What new hobbies or activities have you recently stepped into?
This weekend, our family has been puppy sitting Boots. Boots is a seven month old german shepherd who is being trained to be a seeing eye dog to help a blind person. She’s being raised by a local family who is part of our 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Club. The Club meets once a month (tonight actually) to help puppy raisers with training tips and to conduct business to keep the club moving along. We are currently on the waiting list for a new puppy which should arrive sometime this fall.
Our “forever” dog, Iso, was part of the program. Iso is our seven-year black lab. We got him when he was eight weeks old, and we had him in our home until he was eighteen months old. From there, he traveled up to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ where he was trained for eight months. We got to see his “final” exam, a town walk through the streets of Morristown, and he did great. So we were surprised when we received a phone call a couple of weeks later indicating that Iso was not going to pass the program. Apparently, he was too social – he was too distracted by other dogs.
Fast forward, five years. Iso lives with us, and he is a great dog. He’s very friendly. He doesn’t bark – which makes him a terrible watch dog. He doesn’t fetch – which makes him a terrible retriever. And he’s not real active – which makes him a terrible walking partner. But we love him. He is so loyal, and he loves our company.
This weekend has been a wake up call for Iso. Imagine a seven month old puppy invading your turf – running circles around you – stealing your attention – disrupting the life as you know it. Needless to say, Iso didn’t seem to happy about the whole thing when Boots walked in the door on Friday night. As the weekend has moved along, a friendship seems to be budding, and Boots seems to be teaching Iso a thing or two.
Iso has actually barked a few times in response to the pestering of Boots. We now know that Iso has a deep bark which could be scary if an intruder came to the door. Iso has also dabbled in the whole fetching thing. Boots loves to fetch her orange and blue ball. She carries it around with her all the time. I don’t think Iso understood this at first, but once he saw how much attention Boots received as she returned to the thrower with the ball, Iso started get it. He actually went after the ball a few times and beat out the younger Boots to retrieving the ball and bringing it back.
So…I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!
We say goodbye to boots today as her family returns from a weekend getaway. But we’ll remember Boots with fondness as we think of the new tricks she passed along to our forever dog. Plus, we’ll get to say hello to Boots at each of the monthly Puppy Club meetings – including tonight’s meeting.
I think we can learn from this story of Boots and Iso. Younger people have lots to teach “older” people. If you are young, speak up and share. (This is a good lesson for me as I am the youngest person on our management team at work.) If you are “older” (and we’re all older than someone), watch and listen to those who are younger. They can add value and new insights. They can also remind you that things can be fun and exciting. Great lessons from our weekend!
Do you have any pets? What tricks can they do?
Who are the young people you hang out with for new ideas and new energy?
Meet Iso. He’s the fifth member of the Stolpe Family. Iso has been part of our family on and off again for the past four years. On Tuesday, Iso will celebrate (if dog’s are capable of celebrating) his fourth birthday – which I think makes him 28 years old in dog years. We originally got Iso when he was eight weeks old. The Seeing Eye lent him to us to raise him through his early puppy times until he would be reading to be trained to be a full bore seeing eye guide dog. So we had him until he was about 1 1/2 years old. Then they came and got him.
He was up at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ for eight months, and we were fairly certain that he would pass the program with flying colors. This was made even more certain when we went up to Morristown, NJ to see his “town walk” final exam. He did great guiding a “blind” trainer through the streets of Morristown. I was amazed to see how much Iso had learned during his training. When we left that day, we were happy to see that Iso had done so well, and we couldn’t wait to hear where Iso would be headed to work.
It was a few weeks later when we received a phone call from the Seeing Eye indicating that Iso had not made it through the program due to his distraction when other dogs were around. We had a big choice to make. We could adopt him for free, or we could let him find placement through the Seeing Eye’s adoption program. After much debate, we decided to take him back.
Iso has been a great addition to the family. He is very friendly. And he likes to know we’re around. If you’re thinking about a dog or would like to help out as a puppy raiser in this program, I’d greatly encourage you to give it a try.
Until the next post, who let the dogs out…