By Volunteer Puppy Raiser Karen Beatty
My first-born grandson, Dawson, was born at 24 weeks 3 days and weighed in at 1lb 11oz. Due to being premature, he developed Retinopathy of Prematurity stage IV (ROP). ROP occurs when blood vessels stop growing for a time, then begin growing abnormally and randomly. The new vessels are fragile and can leak, leaving the retina scarred and possible detachment. In Dawson’s case, the retinas detached, tearing away from the back wall of the eye and putting him at a high risk of becoming blind. He now has no vision in his right eye and low vision with nystagmus (an involuntary eye moment) in his left. His visual acuity is 20/800.
While reading all I could on vision impairments and blindness, I came across the Leader Dogs for the Blind website. A guide dog, I thought, would be something Dawson might really benefit from. I noticed the volunteer tab and wondered in what capacity we could volunteer (we live two hours away from Rochester Hills). Puppy raising seemed to be the perfect fit. We got a puppy of our own to see if we had the dedication it took to raise a Future Leader Dog. When our dog Lacy was 1.5 years old, we decided to apply. We were approved and picked up our first puppy, Mira D, (Everest X Gatsby), a yellow Labrador/golden retriever cross on January 27, 2020.
Her name has a special meaning. Mira, short for miracle, and D for Dawson. We later learned about the Mira Foundation, an organization that provides guide dogs for clients between the ages of 11 and 17, and that “mira” in Spanish means sight. We didn’t know that when choosing her name, but we refer to these type of things as “God winks.”
We raised Mira D for about 15 months, dropping her off at Leader Dog on April 29, 2021. She’s now working with her client in Wisconsin. As for Dawson, he’s now 12, has a personality larger than life, is quick witted and very musically talented.
Our journey with Leader Dog continued when we picked up our second Future Leader Dog Resi B (Casey X Briggs) a yellow Labrador/golden retriever cross on September 9, 2021. Her name also has a special meaning.
Resi is for resilience and B for Benjamin, our second born grandson. Physical resilience refers to the body’s ability to adapt to challenges, maintain stamina and strength and recover quickly and efficiently.
Benjamin was born with malrotation of his intestines with volvulus, which means the intestine did not form properly and failed to make the normal turns in the abdomen. Volvulus is when the intestines twist, cutting off the blood supply. At 3 days old, Benjamin went in for emergency surgery where the doctors untwisted and re-routed his intestines. He was given a 20% chance of survival. It was a huge surgery for such a tiny boy, but he did great. Benjamin is now a very loving, athletic, amazing 7-year-old. Resi is a very sweet, loving and obedient puppy with maybe just a little more pep in her step. Her projected return date is August 21, 2022.
If all goes as planned, we will pick up puppy number three when returning Resi B to Leader Dog. The house felt so empty after returning Mira D and our personal dog, Lacy, felt her absence.
We have our sixth grandchild on the way, so we know we must raise at least four more puppies after Resi B, hopefully more! All our children and grandchildren love the puppies and the entire family pitches in to help.
I feel so blessed to have met so many wonderful people in the Leader Dog community, some in person and some through email and social media, but all are supportive and full of great advice. I have our puppy counselor on speed dial! I love how everyone is cheering each other on every step of the way. We have utilized all the materials and resources available. Puppy raising for Leader Dog has taught me how to be a responsible pet owner and all about positive reinforcement. Our only regret is we didn’t know about it sooner.
If raising a puppy might be the right volunteer opportunity for you or someone you know, you can find out more on our website. Browse the FAQs, sign up for a free, virtual orientation session and learn more about the impact you could make.