A story of love and loss — of a pup once trained to be a guide dog — who captured the heart of her trainer instead
In 2007, I became a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes (an organization that provides guide dogs for the service of people with vision loss) and brought home a beautiful little puppy named Sundae. Little did I know what would unfold in my life — and my heart — from that day forward.
Sundae quickly became the charge of our golden retriever, Reuben, who begrudgingly took in one more of his mother’s ‘projects’. This followed rescued baby birds, newborn squirrels, a possum or two, and a hummingbird. Once crate-trained, Sundae slept with Reuben, who let her pull at him and take his toys and treasured balls. He tolerated and trained her to come when she was called and tsk-tsked when she tried to cruise the counters.
A trainer named Libby, who I came to adore, once said we were “the poster children for Guiding Eyes.” We would come to class and Sundae would sit up straight next to me when I directed her. I held my breath when it was time to confidently tell her to ‘sit’, and I would leave the room for a few minutes to see if she could ‘stay’ — but there she sat and waited.
Sundae had trust in her bones and a world of loyalty in her heart… and I was ‘her person’.
I took in all the training advice, all the psychology of how these dogs are bred, and lived the truth of how remarkably intelligent and bonded they become.
And so the months unfolded and our lovely life at home continued. We were known in our village of Woodstock and greeted with only pure joy when we went from shop to shop, Sundae in her kerchief and later in her jacket. I felt the truth of the adage ‘it takes a village,’ because I think our little town felt like they were part of her training. Wherever we went, there was always someone who would stop to tell me the story of their dog, their blind relative, their loves and their losses.
The day we left for Sundae’s grand test as a service dog, neighbors tearfully came to say good-bye, but at that point I was convinced about the mission. Sundae would do for someone else what she had done for me: be loyal, loving, intelligent, and devoted.
Months later, after receiving postcards saying she was fine, I got a call from Libby. She remarked that Sundae was afraid of thunder and it would be fairly impossible for her to get over this fear. It would be a deal-breaker. I rushed to Guiding Eyes and there she was. I was so sorry that Sundae couldn’t be a guide dog — but I was jubilant to have her back!
Now, eleven years later, Sundae has died. She lost control of her bowels one night and the following day began to have seizures that wouldn’t abate. Thinking back, the only sign of trouble was that a few weeks ago she began to bark every so often. I now see that as a warning signal. Otherwise, she seemed in perfect health. Yet, within hours, I lost a best friend and my dear companion.
Last night, I had a realization that frankly was a shock. I suddenly understood what it must feel like to be blind and lose one of these special dogs.
I had never fully understood — and now I do. Yes, Sundae was a great dog and people liked her, but my family saw her as mydog. She was always just a few feet away from me as I gardened, roamed the forest, visited family or friends. She was a part of me. And now she is gone. To my friends at Guiding Eyes, I want you to know how grateful I am to have been a puppy-raiser. I was the beneficiary of your ‘change of career’ policy of returning the pup to the raiser — and I will be forever in gratitude.
You may also enjoy reading The Dharma of Dogs: Learning to Love, Lose and Love Again, by Tami Simon