Bits 'n' Pieces: Farewell to Vista, a helpful pup

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
photoKristen Granger, 17, holds Vista, a guide dog in training she helped raise, in December 2011. She had to say goodbye to the Labrador this May when it was taken away for formal training.

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Dropping your puppy off for guide dog training is a little like dropping off your kid at college.

At least, that's how Kristen Granger sees it. The 17-year-old is heading into her senior year at Prairie High School, so she hasn't had immediate experience with abandoning offspring on the groves of academe.

But she did spend a little over a year raising a little Labrador named Vista from a 2-month-old pup -- all the time knowing the lovable pooch would eventually leave her ready for more formal training as a guide dog for the blind.

"The No. 1 job of a puppy raiser is socializing the puppy -- exposing her to as many sights, sounds, smells and surfaces as possible so she's not scared of anything," Granger said. "She can be confident in big cities, rural area -- she's just not fazed by anything."

Not even high school, not even the hospital. When Vista was old enough, Granger, who is granddaughter of noted local philanthropist the late Mary Granger, took the dog to school and to her volunteer gig as a greeter at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

"She did really well," Granger said. "She was expected to lay quietly or sleep through every class." You can't have everybody doing backflips over the cute classroom pooch and insisting on patting her, said Granger, who routinely reminded her friends and teachers that Vista was a working dog and needed to stay focused. "Everyone respected that," she said. That's not to say she wouldn't let little kids show Vista some love when the pooch was calm and doing well. "Taking her to school is like what a lot of puppy-raisers do, taking the dogs to work and getting them used to the work environment where they have to be settled in for long periods of time."

Granger and Vista also went to meetings of Guiding Eyes of Clark County, a puppy-raising club, to discuss issues and go on regular outings to busy places such as Portland International Airport, the MAX train, the Hulda Klager Lilac Festival.

Eventually, the anticipated call came: Vista was being "recalled" for formal guide dog training by a professional trainer. Granger and her family took Vista back to the Guide Dogs for The Blind campus in Boring, Ore., and handed her off to the staff in May. It wasn't easy after more than a year of going everywhere and doing everything with Vista.

"It was really sad, after all the training and work I put in, but I knew she was ready," said Granger. "It's like sending her off to puppy college. It's sad but you really want them to succeed."

And, like any proud college parent, Granger was eager to see her kid's report cards -- yes, puppy trainers get notified of their students' progress -- and then to get invited to the graduation ceremony, also held at the campus in Boring.

"Only about half the dogs pass the entire training," Granger said. "It is really rigorous."

Good news: Proud graduate Vista is now with a 29-year-old Midwesterner named Jessica. Jessica is busy writing endearing Vista stories, and posting Facebook photos of her online, so Granger knows she's well-loved, in good hands and doing what she was trained to do. And, on June 14, Granger picked up another puppy, named Tuesday, to train.

You can learn more about training puppies to be guide dogs at http://guidedogs.com.

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.