A Bright Sunshiny Day in a Dog's Life: 6/30/2008
Text and Photos by Craig Goldwyn
As a hobby, my wife and I raise puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind. We got involved because we love animals and because, as a photographer, the concept of blindness has always befuddled me.
About a month ago we picked up a seven week old yellow Labrador Retriever from the Leader Dog kennels in Rochester, MI http://leaderdog.org . We named her Sunshine because she is so bright in color and attitude. To the name we attach the hope she will pass all her tests and, at about 18 months of age, become the sunshine in the life of someone who can use some. She is the fifth puppy we have raised for Leader Dogs over the past decade. Sunshine was born 4/4/2008, so she was just shy of three months old on 6/30/2008 when I documented her day.
Founded in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind is one of the oldest and largest service dog training schools in the world. They issue about 600 puppies a year to volunteers, and about half of them graduate. Some of the ones who fail to graduate are offered to other working dog services, and the rest are offered for adoption. So far all of our pups have graduated.
We will have Sunshine for about 11 months. She and her litter mates will return to the Leader Dog school on 4/12/09. We prefer not to think about that too much.
When she goes back she will begin an advanced training and evaluation program. After the first month Leader Dog's breeding committee will decide if she should be part of their breeding stock or if she should be neutered and be trained to become a Leader Dog. If she goes on she will face a rigorous four-month training program. Then Leader Dog will fly in her new blind partner at no expense, and house him or her in their new on-campus apartments.
Now here's where something miraculous happens. Up until now these bright, sensitive, playful animals have been training to cross streets and driveways, and guide their partners through crowded sidewalks and malls. But all their training has been with sighted people. It has been fun and game-like. Then one morning each dog is brought into a bedroom and her new partner is sitting on the bed. And there is something very different about this person, but the dog doesn't know it yet. The two will live together, practice together, bond, and fall in love, and somewhere along the way, in just four weeks, she will come to understand that it is no longer a game. This person's life is in her paws. They have become a working team. After 11-12 months in my home, after 5-6 months on the Leader Dog campus, at about 18 months old, Sunshine and her new partner will go home together.
Nobody knows how the dogs come to recognize that the games are over and work has begun, that their new masters lives depend on them, but it happens in Rochester 300 times a year and at service dog academies across the world countless times.
Technical notes: All photos were taken with a Nikon D80 or D70. The title photo was taken with a Nikkor 70-300 mm lens with a macro attachment, the two digital clock photos were taken with a Nikkor 18-70 mm lens, and the rest were taken with a Nikkor 10.5 mm fisheye lens because I wanted to show how small Sunshine was and how large her world is. I took more than 800 pix over the day and about 80 made the cut.