Puppy love

Oak Bay couple adds meaningful relationship to retirement plan as they foster a guide dog in training

Tara Douglas snuggles with B.C. Guide Dog Services’ puppy Noelle

After Tara Douglas and her husband Murray Frost retired from their jobs, they were looking at ways to be “significant” in their retirement.

After more than 30 years working for museums and other cultural industries, the couple knew they wanted to do something else in their community that would use their abilities and bring some enhancement to their lives.

“I went to a retirement seminar that said to be successful in your retirement you need to move away from thinking about success like you would in your career, and to thinking about being significant in your retirement, that was a huge leap for me,” said Douglas, as she gently stroked her eight-week-old puppy.

The puppy, Noelle, is in training with the B.C. Guide Dog Services.

“We’re the only organization in B.C. and Alberta who focuses solely on training guide dogs,” said Jan Buehler with the Victoria office. “We’re the only ones in B.C. that train guide dogs and autism support dogs.”

Douglas is now one of 50 volunteers in B.C. and Alberta who takes on the task of training and raising a puppy for work as a guide dog.

In addition to the sleep deprivation of having a new puppy in the home, Douglas immediately noticed the difference in raising a guide dog compared to her experience with their standard poodles.

“We didn’t have to raise (the poodles) with the prescribed method we’re learning about,” she said. “It’s been challenging but very rewarding.”

The prescribed method includes using a bell to let the owner know when the dog needs to go out to relieve itself, and while outside the dog must be on a lead.

“When they get in the car, they have to sit in the foot well,” said Douglas, another rule of training a guide dog. “They can’t sit on the seat, so that’s been a bit of a learning process. Yesterday we went for a car ride and she was pretty good. I sit with her and my husband drives.”

Frost and Douglas have only had Noelle since Feb. 9 but immediately Douglas noticed the bonding that happened between her and the puppy.

“I think it must be biological or something that you see something small, big-eyed and cute and you do start immediately bonding,” she said. “There’s also this feeling that I’m going to protect this little thing come what may.”

Once Noelle has completed her 18-month stay with Frost and Douglas, she will move to a family in Delta where she will begin advanced training. Every morning the puppies are picked up at 8:30 a.m. and are involved in a variety of training drills until they are dropped off at home at 5 p.m.

Thinking of having to say goodbye to Noelle, Douglas looked down at the puppy in her arms with obvious sadness, and said she thinks of all the hard work the puppy will do.

“When I look down at this dog, no matter how naughty she’s been, I think, ‘My God, she’s going to do eight years of fabulous work,’ how many of us will ever do that?” she said.

Throughout Noelle’s stay, Douglas will continue sharing the experiences of raising a guide dog with the Oak Bay News. Look for updates in future editions, online at oakbaynews.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/OakBayNews.