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To My Guide Dog's Puppy Raisers: Thank You

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I thought the sudden snow storm that Saturday morning was nature’s way of telling me I did not have to go tour pre-schools for my almost 4-year-old daughter. My husband, on the other hand, was hell-bent on not letting a little snow get in our way. We had arranged for baby-sitting with my in-laws and headed out the door that morning. Me, my husband, and my guide dog, Frances.

“Goodbye, Mama,” my almost 4-year-old shouted as I grabbed my purse. “I hope you have fun looking at my new school.”

I wanted to throw up. Literally. Even with September almost nine months away, the thought of my “baby” leaving me every day, entrusting her safety to strangers, filled my mind with dread. When we finally found ourselves sitting in the parking lot that snowy January morning, my husband assured me we were doing the right thing. Frances snuck her head behind the back seat and licked my ear. “Let’s go, girl.” I said.  And with that, she hopped out of the car and I snapped the leather handle into the harness. “Forward, Franny.” There was no turning back now.

The weather had deterred a lot of people from attending the open house that morning, placing more unwanted attention on my husband and I, the obviously nervous blind mother and her snow-covered guide dog. When we finally were escorted into what could quite possibly be my daughter’s classroom, I felt as though I was going to have a panic attack. All I could see were clothes lines with papers hanging from them, the silhouette of a wooden toy kitchen and endless rows of tiny desks. My eyesight prevented me from seeing any further and the negative self-talk commenced in my head:

How are you going to get her here every day? 

What if the kids pick on her because I’m blind?

Am I going to be able to volunteer in the classroom?

Will the teacher…

My last thought was interrupted because Frances decided to intercede. My beautiful, furry partner pressed her body close to mine. Franny lifted her head and looked up at me, as if to say, “Hey, Mom, we’ve got this. You and me. We’ve got this.” And that’s when I thought of you, her puppy raisers, and how much your immense sacrifice has impacted my family.

Puppy raisers like yourselves play such an integral role in preparing these remarkable dogs to be our guides. I want you to know that I think of your sacrifice during times like these. When I feel the foreboding sense of doubt in my abilities to live an independent life, it gives me strength to consider how you and your family volunteered to take in an adorable, cuddly, puppy.

Nobody asked you. Nobody forced you. You knew the commitment involved. You knew it was going to be hard. As Frances’ raisers, you looked after her, cared for her, carefully laying the foundation for her training. For close to a year, you kept and loved the dog fate had decided would come to me, all the while knowing that one day you would say good-bye, perhaps wondering if you would ever see her again.

I don’t pretend to know why you and your family chose to make such a heart-wrenching sacrifice. I can only tell you what that sacrifice has provided for me as a wife and mother of two little girls.

My husband no longer worries when I leave the house alone. Fears about me falling or getting lost are a distant memory now that I have Franny by my side. I can pick up that container of strawberries and bushel of bananas at the grocery store 14 blocks from my home – alone. I can attend work functions without loading two kids into car seats and being chauffeured by my spouse. I can even walk to Starbucks and get a cup of hot chocolate on my own, 20 minutes of mom-free time, where I get that much needed break to reconnect with myself.  Having Frances has given me that – you have given me that.

My daughters, ages 2 and 3 love that yellow Labrador as much as any child could ever love a dog. They hug her, play dress up with her, invite her to tea parties. All the while, “St. Frances” puts up with being squeezed, shoved, and adorned with pearls and tiaras. When my daughters wake up every morning, Frances circles each of them, her tail intently wagging, as she sniffs, licks and showers them with affection. While I will attribute some of her temperament to Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s fantastic breeding program, I would be remiss if I did not give your family credit for part of the calmness and gentleness in her demeanor. Undoubtedly, in her training, you must have had our Franny around children because she has happily assumed her role as backup mother for my daughters.

There is a piece of your family that beats within the heart of my dog. I feel it every single day when I grip Frances’ harness. I think of you every time I make it to the mailbox or find that elusive flight of stairs. I think of you on days it rains, or snows, and I’m still able to make it to that doctor’s appointment without canceling. There are times I have even thought of you when I was able to find the ladies room with my little girl who “really had to go.” A part of you is with us every single day, on every single route.

With pre-school fast approaching, maybe you can relate to the anxiety I’m having over letting go of my little girl. It must be very similar to how your family felt the day you let go of Frances, so another person you never met could benefit from her training.

I want you to know this amazing creature we both have grown to love is more than just my guide dog. She’s more than a mobility tool. She has become my partner, my friend in blindness, and my partner in crime. Every day Frances gives me confidence, self-assurance, and a level of independence I had only dreamed possible. So thank you to Frances’ puppy raisers and to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for giving this mother of two my four-legged angel, complete with leather harness.

With Franny by my side, I know I’ll be able to navigate pre-school. After all, “We’ve got this.”

Follow this journey on Blind Motherhood.

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Originally published: January 16, 2017
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