Friday, January 25, 2013

Change of Plans: A Homecoming Surprise

While Vinson had become quite proficient at guide work, his distraction level remained an issue. As a final test of his ball-distraction issues, Vinson accompanied a trainer to a basketball game. Regular readers of this blog know that basketballs were a particular obsession of Vinson's; and apparently that hasn't changed. Vinson's extreme excitement at the game made it clear that he would officially be changing careers.

It should be noted that, despite scientific breeding, focused puppy raising and world-class training, not every dog can succeed as a guide. It is a difficult job that requires complete attention to ensure the safety of the team.

Hearing the news, my initial feeling was a bit of sadness, knowing that Vinson would not be moving on to the match, but that was followed quickly by the excitement of realizing that Vinson would be rejoining our family!

Last night, Sarah and I were reunited with Vinson and took him home, along with Watson and the second puppy we are currently raising for The Seeing Eye. As you'll see from the video, Vinson remembered us for sure. At home, Vinson settled in very quickly - almost as if he'd never left.

The notice and adoption happened so quickly that we're still reminding ourselves that Vinson is now a forever dog in our family. A coworker put it quite poignantly: Vinson's job was to spread the word about The Seeing Eye and share the story of volunteering as a puppy raiser. In that job, he was a champion. Now he's moving on to a new job - being a beloved family member.

So many have helped Sarah and I along the way, from puppy-sitting to calm counseling. We thank them one and all. And to all of the readers who shared this experience with us - some 80,000 - thank you.

This project is now coming to a close. We set out to share a genuine look at our experience and I think we've succeeded at that. I hope you found yourself laughing, smiling or even crying along with us at times. From Sarah, myself and the whole crew of animals in our home, we wish you all the best!

- Ryan

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Waiting for a Match

Vinson sitting proudly in harness!
I spoke with Chris, Vinson's current instructor, and he reports that he's had some very good walks through town with Vinson. Chris feels he is ready to be matched with the right student.

By chance, Chris is the instructor I featured in one of our latest videos that happens to be all about the matching process! If you're interested in learning more about what goes into the match, watch the video on The Seeing Eye's YouTube channel!

In the meantime, reports are that Vinson is "the clown of the play yard", which is no surprise to any of us! He's happy, healthy and ready to work (or play!).

And it begins again...

On a personal note, Sarah and I are happy to report that we are raising a second puppy who came to us the day after Christmas! Vinson taught us many things, and with Watson now top dog in our home, we've got a great role model for the new little guy. This time around, we're raising a male German shepherd; and he's learning and growing fast. My coworkers are also thrilled to have another puppy in the office. We will not be blogging about our newest puppy - that was really a project that was all Vinson (and boy did he turn out to be a great puppy to follow!).

I will post Vinson updates as they are shared with me. We're hoping for the day when we can post that he's been matched and is off on his next adventure. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not Quite Yet

The matching process of human and canine is a huge, and almost magical part of The Seeing Eye experience for our students and staff. Instructors spend four months training their string of dogs, and along the way make careful notes about pace, pull, distraction, energy and other characteristics that will later help them in matching canine to student.

The instructor also evaluates each student through discussion and "Juno walks" (the instructor holds the harness handle, acting as the Seeing Eye dog, and guides the student in various environments, getting an idea of how fast a person prefers to walk and how much pull they prefer). The instructors then combine what they know about their students and what they know about their canines, mix in a some gut instinct, and determine the match.

This morning, students in the October class were matched with their new dogs. After careful determination, the instructors felt there is not a proper match for Vinson's pace, pull, energy level, etc. in this particular class, so he will remain on campus with daily walks and enrichment, and perhaps some additional training, until the next class arrives.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Things Change... Quickly!

We've never had a doubt about Vinson's intelligence, and he's apparently proved his quick-learning skills over the last few weeks!

We received a note from Lori telling us that Vinson has done extremely well working on his distraction issues in the last few weeks and that he is ready to be matched if the right student is in class. The new class starts next week, so keep checking back: Vinson remains full of surprises!

We'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Town Walk: A Great Worker, Still Goofy!

Sarah and I attended Vinson's town walk yesterday and had the chance to watch him working through town in harness. Along the way he displayed intelligent disobedience during traffic checks, guided Lori around an obstacle and posed for some photos at the end.

True to his nature, Vinson still maintains his puppy energy, and unfortunately, his puppy tendency to be distracted by blowing leaves, balls, etc.

Vinson is working excellently in harness, but his instructor is concerned about his distraction level. Because he seems so smart, confident and willing to work, Vinson will be assigned to a second instructor to work specifically on the distraction issues and allowing Vinson more time to mature.

So, as has been the case since day one, Vinson continues to write his story his own way. At the end of the month, he'll begin bonding with his new instructor who will have all of Lori's reports on him available.

Could be a few more months now, and the possibility of Vinson "changing careers" is still out there too. It's all up to our crazy, happy puppy at this point.

Special thanks to Lori for sharing part of her afternoon with us to explain all of the great training she's done with Vinson.

As promised, here's a video of Vinson's town walk. Check back for updates, and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Week Until the Town Walk

Just a week to go until Vinson's town walk where he'll proudly demonstrate all his new guiding skills. Be sure to check back for the video of how far he's come!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Town Walk Invitation!

Vinson is doing very well in training and time has flown by. Hard to believe, but we've already received our invitation for his town walk!

The town walk is a huge moment on the puppy raising timeline - essentially like Vinson's graduation from training. A Seeing Eye volunteer will walk with Sarah and I as we travel through Morristown observing Vinson guiding his instructor through complex intersections and around obstacles.

Because we need to respect the bond Vinson has formed with his instructor, we will observe from a distance - about half a block behind the team. We will be able to take photos and video of his performance (assuming our proud tears don't fog up the lense!). The volunteer will explain a bit about Vinson's training and the learned behaviors as he exhibits them, including the all-important intelligent disobedience - the ability to refuse to follow a command when the dog knows it is not safe to do so.

Vinson's town walk will be in the first week of September, so be sure to check back to get a chance to actually see him working! As I promised when I began this blog 16 months ago, we will share this proud yet personal moment with all of you - the culmination of our year of work with Vinson and Lori's four months training him.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Half Way Through: Postcard from Vinson

Today another postcard from Vinson arrived, marking his being half way through training. The card reads:

Hi Mom & Dad!

I'm taking a break from playing in the kennel to fill you in on my training so far. I'm half way through and I have already learned so much! I know how to stop at curbs, take Lori around things on the sidewalk and keep her safe from moving cars when we cross the streets, driveways and parking lots.

We did our first blindfold this week and I was awesome! Granted, there weren't any real distractions out there that day. If I had seen any kids or dogs or birds, I'm not sure how it would have turned out (here, Vinson drew a smiling doggy face).

After blindfolds we started freelance. So far I have been on a bus and a train. Next week we'll start working in stores and we'll go  to New York City! I've heard there are lots of pigeons there - should be fun!

Anyway, Lori loves my spunk and is working hard to teach me to channel my energy! Wish us both luck (Vinson signed with a paw print)!

Love, your puppy Vinson and Lori

Here are photos of the actual postcard:


Monday, July 23, 2012

Moonlighting as Puppy Raisers for a Week

A visit to Lowes this weekend
Sarah and I have the pleasure of puppy-sitting for a fellow puppy club member this week - so we have a 1-year-old male black-and-tan shepherd staying with us. Watson has been very accepting of the new house guest - especially considering the guest is an unaltered male shepherd!

Feels good to get back in the puppy-raising swing of things. We took our new friend to Home Depot and Lowes this weekend and he did very, very well. He is quiet, respectful and loving, but still full of puppy energy. The best part? I have a dog in the office once again! Gate closed, Nylabones out, water dish full. The funniest part? My canine clown car commute. I swear I am responsible for an awful lot of smiles, laughs and some head scratching from fellow commuters on Route 15!

Watson (left) and his new buddy
Vinson's trainer, Lori, says he continues to do well and improves every day. They've been doing lots of harness work in and around Morristown (you may see him out there if you're local). She says they are working some distraction issues which is no surprise to us, or to any of you who've been reading about Vinson! All signs still point to him completing training. He's now about half way through the four-month program, so if everything went according to schedule, he could potentially be matched with a person who is blind as early as October!

Sarah and I have had lots of questions about whether or not we'll raise another. The answer is YES! We've already spoken with Jill, our area coordinator, and are just waiting to be sure Vinson "graduates" before we get a new little fella. We'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence is a Very Special Word at The Seeing Eye

It's in our mission statement. It's the tag line on The Seeing Eye logo. And Independence day happens to be a doubly special day here.

Today happens to be "dog day" for the July 2012 class of students - the day they meet the dog that their instructor has chosen for them; and for the first time, I'll have the incredible privilege to witness the moment when person and dog meet for that very first time and begin forming a bond that will come to define independence for many years.

It'll be one more insight for me into some piece of Vinson's upcoming future too. One day, he'll be the dog being introduced to the student, surely with a wildly wagging tail and big Lab kisses.

We did receive the official letter from The Seeing Eye telling us which instructor Vinson was assigned to - Lori - although in our unique case, we already knew this since I can see the two of them working together out my office window.

Reports are that Vinson is doing great in training, confidently and happily taking on new challenges. All signs point to him making it through to be matched, but he still has three months of training to go.

Give your canines a special hug today and take some time to reflect a bit on the many meanings of independence.

Friday, June 8, 2012

In Harness!

Just saw Vinson out the window of my office at The Seeing Eye and today was his first time working in an official Seeing Eye harness with his instructor! I'd caught glimpses of Vinson working just on leash the last two days - the first day he was wild on leash, pulling and lunging like he used to do on occasion. Yesterday he was energetic but somewhat more controlled. This morning in the harness, he looked very controlled and incredibly proud - chin up high, tail up and wagging. Incredible. A pretty special milestone.

Yes, it is somewhat difficult to watch Vinson working and not be able to interact with him, but I'm also finding it's very satisfying to see him progressing towards the goal. Would I like to run up to him and give him a hug? Of course, but the plan is in motion and he's doing great, and that's what matters most!

Keep checking back - I'll post updates as he progresses.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Great News

Vinson up to his usual antics
While I am not permitted to interact with Vinson during this time of transition for him, many staff here see the little fella quite frequently. One snapped this photo this afternoon, showing Vinson is 100% himself as training time nears. As he always liked to do with people and dogs alike, Vinson is trying to force some play using a Nylabone.

More big news: Vinson has been officially assigned to an instructor and Seeing Eye dog training will begin as early as tomorrow!!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Postcard from Vinson

Sarah and I received a postcard from Vinson yesterday, telling us he's having fun with his new friends in the kennel. The bigger news is that he successfully passed his medical examinations, including his X-rays (which is great, given his early puppy-hood leg break). Vinson will "be assigned to an instructor very soon".

Way to go, buddy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vinson Update

I was lucky enough to briefly hear how Vinson's doing in the kennel. Sounds like he's adjusting well to his surroundings and his new kennel mates. Today is a big day for him - and probably one he'd choose to skip: neutering.

We'll be thinking about our little yellow, groggy friend. He's in great hands!

Watson Gladly takes the Top Dog Spot

Watson with his new "blue baby"
Since Watson arrived in our home about half way through raising Vinson, despite being an imposing ninety-pound shepherd, he assumed the second dog spot in our pack. Sarah and I were curious to see what changes we'd see in him after Vinson's departure.

There are moments when Watson is obviously missing Vinson - certain times during the day when they always played. In Vinson's absence Watson has now become top dog and it seems that I've become the surrogate playmate, tennis balls repeatedly dropped at my feet in the living room.

Overall though, Watson is loving his new, quiet realm. He'll roll onto his side, stretch casually and just enjoy relaxing - a move that would've drawn immediate and relentless play from Vinson just a few days ago.

Perhaps Watson's favorite change is the return of soft dog toys! Vinson could not be trusted around destroyable toys, or frankly anything soft including clothing and paper. When we adopted Watson his favorite toy was his "blue baby" and we had to hide him away out of Vinson's reach. Last night Sarah brought home a new blue baby and Watson was overjoyed, as shown in the photo.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Adusting to a Quiet Home

Sarah and I had a nice long weekend to begin adjusting to a household without Vinson. Watson, our shepherd, took to the change very quickly, enjoying the chance to lay around with his toys without being tackled, chewed on our yelped at. For us humans the transition is a bit slower but going fine.

One of the most noticeable changes is the incredible silence in our home, cars and my office. Even by puppy standards, Vinson was on the high end of boisterous behavior, so his absence is palpable.

What are we missing most? Vinson's groggy morning kisses. The way one side of his lip would get stuck on his tooth, making him appear to be making a funny face. Playing ball in the big field at work.

It was difficult to travel to The Seeing Eye this morning without my little yellow friend. Thankfully Watson still makes the trip with me, but walking into the office without the wild yellow pup seemed very odd - like I'd forgotten something at home.

Yes, there are lots of reminders of Vinson everywhere we go: toys scattered at home, work and in our cars; water dishes at work; bags of puppy food; bitter apple spray; and of course, photos and videos. They're all great reminders of the incredible year we shared with him.

There are some positive changes for us too. Trash cans are back on the floor where they belong. Tissue boxes have been returned to reachable places. Our household dog poop and hair shedding output has been cut in half. Socks and shoes can once again sit out of the closet. There are no more trips outside during work - always the comedian, Vinson had a way of waiting to park until the weather let loose a downpour.

We do wonder how Vinson's doing in the kennel - if he's adjusting to his new bunk mates and routines. But overall the transition has been slightly easier than we thought it might be. It is manageable in that we always knew this time would come - he was a Seeing Eye puppy from the day we met and we knew he'd end up back here for phase two of his journey.

Sarah and I are super proud of what we've done together in raising Vinson. We worked very hard to get him through some unexpected moments, from breaking his leg to eating underwear. Now it's all up to him and the trainers. We're hoping for the best and will keep sharing our experience as the days move on and as we hear any progress updates from The Seeing Eye.

In the meantime, thanks so much for the wonderful comments you've been sharing through this blog and on The Seeing Eye's Facebook page. It's been over a year of shooting and posting photos and writing about our experiences on the blog and it's really fun to hear from all of you who've been on the other side of the screen!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

and then he was gone...

Vinson has officially gone back for processing. Sarah and I had lots of support from Jill and Seeing Eye staff and made it through fine, although we shared some happy tears with many staff who've come to love him as we do.

Vinson proudly wore his official Seeing Eye Dog collar as he headed across the campus with Jill. We were given a certificate marking our achievement of raising Vinson and a letter detailing the communications we'll receive from The Seeing Eye regarding his progress.

Ryan, Sarah and Vinson, posing for one last "family photo"
Vinson happily showing off his official Seeing Eye collar

A closeup of the collar - the plate is engraved with "The Seeing Eye" on one side and has Vinson's name on the other

Our final sight of Vinson heading to the kennels with Jill, taken through my office window screen

Vinson by the Numbers

Day 1 at home
  • 10,000 Vinson business cards handed out
  • 3,000 “sit” commands
  • 1,100 poops picked up
  • 388 days of puppy love
  • 350 blog posts
  • 270 trips to The Seeing Eye
  • 200 pounds of dog food
  • 30 close human friends at The Seeing Eye
  • 24 car interior cleanings
  • 18 puppy club meetings
  • 15 Nylabones well-used
  • 10 trips to the vet
  • 6 leg splints
  • 4 different crates
  • 3 pairs of footwear “altered”
  • 3 cats annoyed
  • 2 dog beds shredded
  • 2 leashes destroyed
  • 2 clothing items eaten
  • 1 Christmas tree knocked over 
  • 1 hurricane lived through
  • 1 Seeing Eye holiday card feature
  • 1 incredibly special goal
Would we do it all again? You bet!

The Big Day!

Today is the big day we've been working toward since that special day - April 18, 2011 - when tiny, 7-pound Vinson entered our lives.

At noon today, Vinson's area coordinator, Jill, will meet Sarah and I in my office at The Seeing Eye to officially bring Vinson to the kennel. There, his processing will begin - health screening, neutering and evaluation, after which he'll be ready to be matched with a trainer.

We'll be posting any information we receive about Vinson's progress along the way. We're keeping our fingers crossed that he'll be able to focus on his job and be a great success, but no matter how everything turns out we're super proud of him!

Here's a photo of Vinson playing with two Great Danes in the big field this morning!

Vinson and the Danes

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ball with Garcia

Vinson had a chance to play ball with Garcia one more time today at lunch. As always, the two of them had a blast together!