The day Tango came home with Chris Kirby was a memorable one.
“He had a little wee on the ferry,” Kirby said, looking at the blond lab bored and stretched out at his feet.
As a seven-week-old pup, Tango was as rambunctious as any little furball, but a year and a half later, his demeanour is noticeably demure.
With his B.C. Guide Dog Services working vest on, Tango knows it’s not playtime. He’s calm, horizontal on the floor and hardly flinches when other dogs come up to give him a sniff.
Mojo is a far cry from Tango’s well-mannered state.
At six months old, he’s easily excited and can barely sit still. At a celebration of the first Guide Dog trained on the Island last week, Mojo sniffed at legs and pulled on his leash, but never did the youngster bark.
“Hopefully he’ll start getting better soon,” his puppy raiser Sharel Lambert said.
For both Lambert and Kirby, this is their first stint as puppy raisers for B.C. Guide Dogs. It’s a 24/7 job that involves constant hands-on involvement with the dogs and an endless supply of patience. Raisers either have to be home all day or take the dog to work.
“It starts the minute you get up to the minute you go to bed,” Lambert said, “and 98 per cent of it is fun.”
Lambert carries a backpack with her everywhere she goes because, for example, in a grocery store one day, Mojo had to go – and Lambert had to be prepared with a poop-scooping bag, disinfecting spray and paper towels.
“Fortunately it was in the magazine aisle … and there were only about three people in the store. He also peed in Hillside (Shopping Centre).”
Puppy raisers dedicate their days to training the dogs, exposing them to almost every possible situation and environment. The pups must meet other dogs, go to grocery stores, church and the ballet, interact with children and adults. And meanwhile, they must stay on their best behaviour. While the blue vest is on, the dogs are at work.
“They’re a little bit more work than a regular pet,” Kirby explained.
Training is done by praise only – no treats – “it takes a bit more connectedness with the animal to let him know you appreciate what he did and you hope he does it again.”
The relationship between a raiser and the dog is like a working relationship, but also like that of parent and child, Kirby said.
“As far as (Tango) leaving, it’s like I’m a parent and he’s going to college or university and you want him to do well and get a good job,” Kirby laughed.
After about 18 months of conditioning, it’s time for the dogs to go off to work, helping the visually impaired or people with autism go about their days.
The day a dog leaves their puppy raiser is never an easy one, said William Thornton, CEO of B.C. Guide Dog Services, who’s been working with dogs since 1977.
Despite the pain of that eventual separation, Lambert said the experience is worthwhile.
“For the right person, it’s the most rewarding experience.”
Did you know?
• B.C. Guide Dog Services just opened an office at 104-1027 Pandora Ave.
• Thursday marked the graduation of the first guide dog trained on the Island, Eddy.
• Several other puppies are being raised and trained currently.
• Puppy raisers and boarders are always needed. All expenses are paid by B.C. Guide Dogs, except toys and a bed. For more information, go to www.bcguidedog.com.