Maternal vision


PHILLIPS – Ever have those adult dog moments – the rude early morning slobberfests when 90-pound Fido nearly crushes your ribs, perhaps; or the malodorous welcome-home gift of trash on your kitchen linoleum when he finally gets big enough to knock over the trash can?

Ever daydream about having a puppy that stays a puppy – too spunky, maybe, but cute and tiny – forever?

Carol Rogers lives that life these days. And while she loves it, she’ll tell you it’s no picnic, and the inevitable good-byes are bad enough to take your breath away.

Rogers raises yellow Labrador puppies for an agency that trains seeing-eye dogs, called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. for the past seven years, she’s mothered 6-week-old puppies through their one-year-old adolescence, teaching them obedience and manners before they head out into the wide world to learn their trade.

The last two-weeks are the worst, she said Thursday. “The last trip to the grocery store. The last trip to the bank,” she said. “Of course, you give them your heart.” Now, she has Nettie, a five-month-old yellow Labrador retriever who’s smart, spunky, and incredibly loving.

“The last two were really special, so I decided not to become emotionally involved with this one. You constantly tell yourself this is not your dog,” she said.

But Nettie was too cute. “She’ll steal your heart,” Rogers said. “She’s the smartest one ever. But they all take a piece of your heart with them when they go.”

Smarts and spunk are difficult to deal with in puppies, Rogers said. Her job is to teach obedience and good manners, and headstrong puppies are notoriously hard to control. But that quality is exactly what makes a great guide dog, when they’re all grown up.

The confidence that annoyed you so much when you were teaching them not to jump on people is what lets them stop, when their new owners want to cross the street, or makes them jump in front of a car, if their partner is about to get hit.

Two of Rogers’ dogs, in fact, have jumped between their owners and a car, she said. Both are fine now.

“Spago – he was destined not to make it,” she said. “He had a mind of his own – he was a happy guy.” He’s one of the two that stepped between his owner and a car. His confidence carried him through, she said. He’s fine, now.

Nettie’s still small, and one of the harder pups Rogers has had to train. She’s extremely affectionate, but also curious and excitable, so much so that Rogers has had to cover her box at night to keep her quiet when the sun starts to come up.

With all the dogs, training is constant. Using food as reinforcement, Rogers rewards good behaviors and ignores bad. It’s not boring, nor is it a constant struggle, especially using the food, she said. “It’s fun. It just makes every little minute fun. And pretty soon, all those little minutes add up.”