When I introduce Sherlock and explain I’m not his owner, only puppy raising, people tell me they could never do it. And, without fail, they ask: How can you give him up?
I didn’t start out this way. When I first considered owning and training a working dog, I knew I would not be able to place my puppy in a pet home if he didn’t have the necessary toy drive and temperament for search work. So, I did what I could to stack the odds in my favor. I talked to a friend and dog trainer about breeding lines, and I bought a puppy from a litter she recommended. I also let the breeder choose my puppy. When I picked up that sweet little black Lab at the airport and held him, I knew I would never be able to give him up. So, I left it to fate. If my puppy had the necessary drive and temperament to do search work, that’s what we’d do. If not, we’d try competitive agility.
Well, Leo had it, and after two and a half years of training he became my first certified search and rescue dog.
Then he was killed.
My next dog had to be a live find search and rescue dog. I loved the partnership. I loved the work.
Parker was a happy go lucky, loving puppy that did not care about toys or have much of a desire to work. In my depression over the death of Leo, I couldn’t see it. I kept waiting for his toy drive to kick in. I was sure it was only a matter of time. When he was just about six months old the very same friend that suggested Leo’s litter invited me to Starbucks. She offered to sell me a seven month old yellow female Lab, Kinsey, in case Parker didn’t work out. I could not admit to myself that Parker needed to be sold as a pet, so I told her no.
I went home, unable to get what she said out of my head. I took Parker into the wash behind my house and threw the toy. He trotted right past it. He didn’t care about toys. So, I called my friend and said I would buy Kinsey. Then I began the painful process of finding Parker a good home.
Some people are good at selling things. I am not. Add to it I loved Parker. My solution? Sell him as quickly as possible. So, when the first family that called asked me to lower his price from $1,500 to $1,000 I said yes. I should’ve said NO! (His puppy price was $850, shipping was $200, plus shots, neutering and an ear infection added up to just about exactly my asking price. This did not include any payment for the time I spent training him.) But, I wanted it done. So I agreed, we met and they took him home. Within hours I got frantic texts about how to handle jumping on the furniture, potty training, everything. I said I would be willing to help them adjust to living with a dog, and would even drive out and meet with them. But, the next morning they called and said it wouldn’t work. He was too energetic, and he peed in the house. Parker came back. Within I week I found him the right home, and besides an email saying how much they adored him, I never heard a thing.
Do I still think about Parker? Yes. Do I regret my decision to sell him? Some days. But the truth is, if I’m not at work, I’m training dogs and Parker didn’t like it. He didn’t want to work, and he didn’t care about toys. So, is it fair to keep a dog that would end up home alone quite often? To me, it was not.
My experience selling Parker taught me that to be happy with your dog, you have to find the one that meets your needs. I need a working dog. The family that sent Parker back needed a stuffed dog. 🙂 When I finally found Parker the right family, we were all better off.
The loss of Leo and Parker made puppy raising easier for me because it changed my perception. Now, when I evaluate the puppies I raise I look for characteristics like confidence, toy drive and the desire to work. A service dog must meet the needs of his future partner. If he can’t, he’ll be placed in the right pet home. With each puppy, it becomes a little bit less emotional and more logical.
With every successful placement, I know puppy raising is something I need to do. Saber, for example, didn’t have the nerve strength to do search work, so we found him the perfect pet home. (I still get emails and pictures from his owner! It makes me so happy to know I was a small part of turning him into a good dog!) I will admit that giving up Rook was hard, but I don’t need another search dog. Kinsey is only five. So, Rook went off to an amazing life with a fireman. Hopefully, one day he’ll find someone, and I’ll be a small part of it. To fill the hole in my heart after losing my first Golden, I decided to puppy raise Sherlock, my second. I do miss each dog, but right now Kinsey and I are happy Sherlock is here.
In my mind it all fits together. Puppy raising teaches me so much about dogs and it enriches the lives of others. When a dog ends up with the right people, whether it’s in a pet home or a working home, their lives are better. It’s become a way for me to give. And that’s what we’re here for, right?
But, when people want to know how I can give him up explaining everything would take too long. So, I simply say, “Sherlock will go to a good home.” And he will.