Deanna, Karen and Mambo standing outside in a park.

September 27, 2022

Before the partnership of a handler and a working guide dog takes place, another partnership has already occurred; that of a puppy raiser and an 8-week-old puppy. Here is the story of Mambo, the guide dog, and Karen.

Karen’s Story

We all have our reasons for becoming puppy raisers. My reason is a result of a chance encounter. On a warm Memorial Day weekend in 2013, I met Ann and her guide dog named Ruthanne (who was 10 years old at the time). I was so impressed with their partnership; I contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) the next week and asked how I could become a puppy raiser.  A year later, again, on Memorial Day weekend, I happened to see Ann and Ruthanne and introduced them to my Guide Dog Puppy, Mambo.

I fell in love with Mambo the minute he was placed in my arms. He was a little ball of yellow fluff with puppy breath. I immediately questioned myself as to what I was thinking, believing I could raise a puppy, socialize them and return them to GDB.

I was so lucky to have Mambo as my first puppy to raise. It was apparent from the beginning that he was destined to become a guide dog. At puppy class he was referred to as an over-achiever and a showoff for learning each task so readily. He truly was a quick learner and a joy to raise. Although the successes he enjoyed while being raised have to be countered with a few challenges. While Mambo was learning what I wanted him to learn, he also was training me. He taught me to pick up my husband’s socks off the floor and to make sure that the toilet seat’s lid was down so that he couldn’t get a quick drink. Also, when walking outside, I had to ensure the door was closed behind me so he couldn’t make a run for it. But, most of all, not to give in to those beautiful, soulful, sad puppy eyes begging for just “one more treat.”

It was an honor to have Mambo by my side. He was truly an ambassador for GDB. He always behaved in public and never strayed from his lessons by being distracted. When he would come out from under the table at a restaurant after our meal, people would say they didn’t know there was a dog under the table. I would proudly state that since they didn’t know he was there, then he was doing his job well.

I was so blessed to have Mambo as my first puppy. He opened a new world for me. I have made new friends, broadened my world and learned about compassion and sadly; about the many prejudices and hardships those who are visually impaired face on a daily basis.

As Mambo’s time with me was drawing to a close, I would lie in bed at night and wonder who he would be paired with. I tried to imagine the location and lifestyle he would soon be living. Over the course of time, I quit wondering though because I knew wherever he was, he would be happy, he would be loved and he would be eager to go on new journeys.

On Mambo’s graduation day my tears of sadness were mixed with tears of joy as I said goodbye to an old friend and hello to a new one. When I met Mambo’s handler, Deanna, I knew they were meant to be together.

When asked, “isn’t it hard to give them up” or people tell me they could never give up a puppy, I recite the words said by a GDB graduate. He said “When I got my cane, I got wings; but when I got my guide dog, I was able to  soar.” I am honored to play a very small role in helping someone have a better life. So, I have to say, the heartache and the tears are definitely worth it.

Since Mambo, I have raised five more puppies. Each one has a special place in my heart, but as the saying goes “you always remember your first.” Although Deanna and Mambo live in Ohio, and I live in California, they are close to my heart. Our families will forever be intertwined. We share our hopes for the future, our concerns and most of all our love for Mambo.

Deanna’s Story

My first walk with Mambo was truly exhilarating as we glided smoothly along the sidewalk. As soon as I picked up his harness handle, we did our first walk to a nearby coffee shop. His pace and pull were magnificent, I felt as if I was flying. He has wonderful obedience skills and is very good at avoiding distractions. He works hard to please and is always focused on his job. Within our first few days together, I could tell that his puppy raiser was very devoted when raising him. My class instructors always commented that Mambo and I looked like we had been working together for a long time because we were so bonded and focused on our travels together. Mambo’s trainer called him Mambolicious, and once he and I started to work together, we became Team Mambolicious.

After our two-week training, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Karen, Mambo’s wonderful puppy raiser. She and her family had devoted so much time and effort to raising the perfect guide dog. Raising a puppy is a very selfless job, and completely voluntary. They dedicate more than a year of their busy lives to raise a puppy that they know that they cannot keep. The hardest part must be saying goodbye, because it may be the last time that they will see the puppy that they raised. However, in my case, I have been able to maintain contact with Karen after our graduation. In the beginning, we would email, text and talk on the phone on a regular basis. Mambo and I have also visited with Karen and her family/friends several times over the last seven years. It is truly a blessing that Karen and I keep in touch and have developed such a strong friendship. It’s very nice to be such good friends with the family that helped shape Mambo into the professional guide dog that he’s become. They put in all of the hard work and all the hours of training. And as everyone can tell, it has definitely paid off!

By the time I met Mambo, he was the dignified guide dog that he was meant to be, and my job is simply to work with him and keep his skills sharp. I also make sure that he remains happy and healthy. I am so grateful to the awesome puppy raisers who help shape these future guide dogs that mean so much to blind and visually impaired individuals, like myself. They truly enhance the lives of their handlers and strengthen our independence and confidence. We wouldn’t be able to have such precious gifts if it weren’t for puppy raisers and of course, the guide dog trainers. They are changing people’s lives each and every day. One of my favorite quotes is, “Inside every guide dog, beats the heart of a puppy raiser”. Nothing could be more true.

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