A World-Class Team

Ashley, a woman with long light brown/blonde hair, smiles at the camera from behind a black mask. She's holding a newborn yellow lab puppy in a green towel.

By Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Ashley Nunnelly

I want to tell you today about some Leader Dog heroes.

To me, the best quality of Leader Dogs for the Blind is its team.

I haven’t written about this on the blog, but for a brief time I left Leader Dog and I began my own business. I worked with people who were training their own service dogs and I worked with owners working hard to train a fantastic family dog. I really did enjoy parts of it, but I missed my Leader Dog team so desperately that I decided to close my business and come back home.

A woman with short hair wearing a red hoodie with "Leader Dog" on the left sleeve in white. She's holding black lab puppies and looking down at them. She is wearing a blue mask.Today, I want to focus on talking about a part of our Leader Dog Team that I don’t get to work with every day, but when I do, they blow me away!

One thing that isn’t highlighted enough: Leader Dogs for the Blind has an absolutely world-class team of veterinarians, vet techs and breeding staff. When I say world class, I mean WORLD class. Not only do they lead the charge in the veterinarian side of the service Dog industry, but they are also a friendly face that is always on call for every emergency. They treat “emergencies” like me desperately asking Dr. Wilson about the puppy that I was raising’s diarrhea all the way to true TRUE emergencies – like emergency C-sections.

A few years ago I signed up to be part of the C-section team.  I completed a training where we “revived” beanie babies and practiced what it would be like if it really happened. But I never REALLY expected to put it to use.

Then one day, I did. I walked into work and one of my coworkers, Carrie, asked me, “Can you come now to help wake up puppies? I need to bring friends.” I squealed/stuttered with excitement/panic, “YES, OF C-C-COURSE.” She grabbed another trainer named Erin and off we whisked.

Three women and one man, all wearing masks and scrubs, work over a dog under anesthesia.The vets had already been up well into the night the day before checking on the status of a momma breeding stock dog. She is a first-time breeding mom and she was living with a family out of state. Apparently there had been no movement in the delivery since the night before, so the phenomenal breeding host drove through the night to bring the mom dog to Leader Dog, where Dr. Wilson and Dr. Smith were waiting.

Not only were the vets there, but Stacey Booms, our breeding technician, was there and coordinating “puppy wakers.” All of our volunteers and our staff know and adore Stacey. She is the kindest expert that you will ever meet, and she was the one texting Carrie first thing in the morning to “Come and bring friends.”

So Erin, Carrie and I walked upstairs from our office. We waited outside as the vets prepped momma for emergency surgery and got it started. While we were waiting, my nerves started to take over. Our breeding manager, Dana, calmly talked me through the process that I would follow to wake the puppy up, all while wearing her slippers because she had rushed to Leader Dog so fast to be there to assist. What was also incredible was that the faces around me weren’t just from the vet staff or the training or dog care teams, they were faces from marketing, from philanthropy, from the residence staff. I had my ENTIRE team around me to come together for this event of bringing new Leader Dogs into this world.

When a momma dog is put under anesthesia to have a C-section, as the puppies are removed the babies are under anesthesia too. And it takes a human to wake them up by rubbing them and stimulating their little bodies because momma isn’t awake to lick them to wake them up to this world.

Ashley and Stacey, a woman with curly brown hair in scrubs, lean over a newborn yellow lab puppyEven though I practiced before, feeling the tiny body fall into my hands was something otherworldly. I know they are supposed to be small and I know they are supposed to be asleep, but the weight of bringing a life into this world was monumental.

Doc Wilson told me, “Step up. Hold your bowl out and he’ll put your puppy in.” And out came this tiny peanut of a yellow lab. How could he be real? He was so tiny, so small, so delicate. I was overcome with emotion and the responsibility of waking this puppy up as soon as possible.

Thankfully, there were so many experts around me. Our dog care, puppy care, vet tech, training and marketing staff had done this many many times before. When I was scared, Stacey came to help me. She was calm, confident and finally she lifted the puppy and held him to my ear and said, “Can you hear him? He’s crying!”

It was the best sound I have ever heard. Once my puppy was out of the woods, Stacey, Doc Wilson and Carrie made their rounds, assisting anyone whose puppies were a bit sluggish with the calm and confidence that is only born of internal strength and years of experience.

Ashley, a woman with long light brown/blonde hair, smiles at the camera from behind a black mask. She's holding a newborn yellow lab puppy in a green towel.Meanwhile, I cradled this sweet, tiny life. This sweet, tiny, seemingly fragile life that I could close my hand around. I was afraid I would crush him. But one day, he will literally take his person, his Leader Dog client, over mountains.

This puppy will guide a person around danger and through the stages of their life. Maybe graduation, marriage, children, a career – this tiny body that I held in my hands would become a person’s whole world.

And the people who created this miracle are our breeding team, our vet team, our puppy care, our breeding stock host homes and eventually our puppy raisers and trainers.

My goodness, does it take a team to change the world.

And that team IS Leader Dog’s.

That day I became the luckiest girl. I had counted on my calendar from the day that I held that puppy in my hands to when he would come back to Leader Dog before he meets his puppy raiser.

A woman with brown hair, glasses and a black mask smiles at the camera. She's wearing blue scrubs and a black jacket with a white Leader Dog logo. She's holding a newborn black lab puppy that has its tongue sticking outStacey and the phenomenally kind and knowledgeable Rachel invited Erin and me to come back and meet our first C- section puppies. Rachel – ever patient with me from the time I moved here six years ago – listened to me squeal and sing and gush over this baby while inevitably making her job so much harder because I just riled everyone up! She told me about them and she helped to provide the utmost care and magically answered all of my questions about past and future litters (seriously, she is a Leader Dog wise woman).

The puppy’s breeding stock host had worked so hard, and it showed. His puppy raiser will work so HARD and I know it will show too.

And I got up from cuddling this sweet life that I helped into the world so that he could change another, I walked back across the parking lot and watched my clients stride confidently down the street with a harness in their hand and a dog that will change their world.

Leader Dog’s best quality is its team. And I can’t wait to see what the team makes of this tiny, tiny miracle that I once got to hold in my hands. Look out for the next picture when he comes in for training (don’t worry – it’s already on my calendar 😊).


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