I will never forget the feeling of my stomach dropping and tears welling up in my eyes as my 14-month-old golden Labrador, Cookie, was called to be taken away from me, possibly forever.
During the summer of 2012, I approached my mom about a segment on a local news channel about Southeastern Guide Dogs, and how they were looking for volunteer puppy raisers for an influx in the kennels.
I told her we should look into becoming puppy raisers. My mom said it was something to consider. At the time she thought it was just something I said out of interest after seeing the segment, but that I wouldn't actually follow through with my statement.
But by the end of August 2012, my mom and I found ourselves at the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus in Palmetto picking up our first puppy: a 10-week old Labrador retriever.
At the time I discovered the organization, I was unaware my deceased grandfather always loved and admired Southeastern Guide Dogs. When my grandfather discovered the organization, he promised himself he would make sure a portion of our family foundation's donations would be given to Southeastern Guide Dogs every year.
Usually, when people first get a puppy, they have to come up with a name the whole family likes. However, when you raise a Southeastern Guide Dog, there is no need for that.
The honor of naming a Southeastern Guide Dog goes to sponsors who donate money. In honor of my grandfather, our family foundation made a donation to name the dog we would be raising.
We named her Cookie after The Great American Cookie Co. my grandparents founded in 1977.
The first few months with Cookie was like having a little devil living in our house. She was teething, which meant she was biting like crazy. At one point, my mom looked like a junkie due to all of the puppy bites and scratches up her arms.
Cookie was also known for getting to a store, having the opportunity to relieve herself outside before entering, refusing, then entering the building and squatting to pee.
The rest of the time we had Cookie she was still crazy and high-energy, but also loving and kindhearted. She is the type of dog who just wants to be with you all the time. She is a 65-pound Lab who thinks she is a 5-pound teacup poodle. All she ever wants is be by your side and give you doggy kisses.
On Aug. 31, my family had to face the depressing fact it was time to turn Cookie in for formal guide dog training.
We arrived at the campus in Palmetto at 8 a.m. For the first 20 minutes, we walked around the campus to find our dog's poster with a picture of her as a newborn puppy. We took pictures in front of Cookie's sign and then went under the main cabana to start the ceremony.
This was the sad part: Saying goodbye.
They called up each dog one by one. The puppy raisers went up, gave their puppy one last kiss and then handed them off to the trainers. Everyone was in tears as they called up all 26 dogs to be turned in that day.
We have not heard any news yet about how Cookie's training is going but we do know she is being considered as a breeder dog. If she becomes a breeder dog, she will live with us through her pregnancy, and then go back to the main campus to deliver her puppies, and stay with them up to nine weeks.
After she delivers anywhere from two to four litters of puppies, she will retire and become our house pet.
Although my entire family is hopeful we will get her back, we also understand if we do not, it means she was destined to change someone's life for the better.
After this we all took some time to regroup and dry our tears before walking to the kennel for "puppy hugging." The breeding director, training director and the Paws for Patriots director then talk with us about their programs.
We all left with a positive feeling. Although sad about having to give up a member of our family, we knew she was moving on to bigger and better things.
On Sept. 10, my mom and I found ourselves back at the main campus picking up our second puppy! If Cookie was at one end of the puppy spectrum, this new puppy is at the other. She is calm, well-behaved, and tranquil. She does not bite and she does not terrorize the other two dogs in the house. She lets us know when she needs to go out, and she sleeps through the night without any whimpering. She is a 16-week-old female gold-a-dor, a mix between a golden retriever and a Lab.
We are also all excited to be starting the journey over again with our new puppy, who is yet to be named. We are excited to see what amazing things she does, and the people's lives she changes.