Paige graduates from Guide Dogs for the Blind program
The sweet yellow lab was raised in King City
(This is the third installment of a three-part series about Lou Travis, who acquired guide dog puppy Paige in February 2012 and raised her until April 2013, when she took her to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Boring to be assessed and complete her advanced training).
For a few moments, Paige forgot she was a newly minted guide dog and flew into the waiting arms of Lou Travis, who had raised her for more than a year and had not seen her for almost four months.
The scene took place Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Boring 1 1/2 hours before the graduation ceremony in which Paige, a yellow lab, was formally turned over to her new handler, Beth Allred of Englewood, Colo.
"She was so excited to see me," said Lou, a King City resident. "She just kept licking me, and her tail was wagging so hard."
Lou and Paige were inseparable during their time together: Paige, wearing her little green "Guide dog puppy in training" jacket, went everywhere with Lou as Lou socialized her and taught her basic commands.
The pair last saw each other April 21, when Lou's friend Chris Casebeer drove her and Paige to the Boring campus for Paige to be evaluated and spayed before starting the eight levels of advanced training. Many dogs don't make it through the entire process, but Paige progressed with flying colors.
"They said she took to it like a duck to water," said Lou, who followed Paige's progress online through the various levels.
As Paige neared the end of her training, she was matched with Beth, a 27-year-old woman who has been blind since birth, earned a master's degree in vocal performance and is now working on a second master's in special education. Beth currently works in special education as a para-professional with blind students aged 3 to 21.
Beth and five others in Class 256 came to the campus two weeks earlier to meet the dogs they had been paired with and undergo intensive training, with the dogs living with their new handlers in the dormitory.
Beth said she got her first seeing-eye dog at age 18, and Paige is her third dog.
During the graduation ceremony, Beth walked across the stage from one side, while Lou and Paige came from the other side, and Lou handed Paige's leash over to her.
"You would think after three dogs that this would become routine," Beth said. "But every dog means new emotions and a new partnership. It's somewhat scary, but a bond is growing between us and this is the start of a new relationship that will be cherished and grow every day.
"A dog brings so much joy into your life, and you share a teamwork that can't be compared to anything else."
Lou spoke next through her tears, recalling, "When I was introduced to Paige, I instantly fell in love with this sweet little girl - so cute, cuddly, affectionate and loved to kiss Paige has always loved people, and I had a hard time keeping her in one place if someone came up to us.
"She would sit nicely, but her tail would go like crazy, and she would start a slow skooch forward. When I'd stop her, she would give me the look, 'Oh, darn I just wanted to say hello!'
"Paige and I went everywhere together - work, church, knitting guild meetings, farmers market, Doernbecher Children's Hospital, the beach, lots of other outings! She loves to ride in the car and is a great little traveler! She would lie down and snooze, and when I'd stop, she'd sit up and look out the window. Because she's so petite, she had to stretch to be able to see the window."
Lou continued, "Every now and then I would send a companywide email to let people at work know what was happening with Paige. When I sent an email saying that she had completed her training, I got an email from a fellow in our Seattle office. His mother is blind and has had dogs from Guide Dogs for the Blind.
"He wrote: 'That's wonderful news, Lou! Your time, efforts and love from your training with Paige will be an investment that is certain to result in a 10-fold return for the person blessed by their new companion and friend.
'Paige's sight (and insights) will certainly make an important contribution to many chapters of a life story yet to be told. Thanks for building a bridge that clearly will bring change and make a big difference in ways you many never know.'"
Lou, who belongs to the Beaverton-based Sightmasters Club for people raising guide-dog puppies, admitted to being a little anxious about who Paige would get as a partner.
"I have to say I am thrilled that Paige and Beth are a team," she said during the ceremony. "Beth is an amazing young woman, Paige is an amazing guide, and since they both like to cuddle and kiss, I know it's a match made in heaven!
Lou added, "As Paige's raiser, I feel truly blessed to have been the first chapter in Paige's life. Now Paige and Beth have started the next chapter, and I know there are many more yet to come!"
Following the ceremony, Beth said, "Paige is a very sweet dog and very easy to handle, and I'm so thankful to Lou."
Beth noted that her birthday is Dec. 16, and Paige's is Dec. 17, and Paige at 45 pounds is a much-smaller guide dog than her previous two, who were 61 and 64 pounds.
Beth said she had gone to Guide Dogs for the Blind's San Rafael campus to get her first two dogs but wanted to come to the Oregon campus this time.
Beth (and Paige, of course), Lou and Lou's friend Chris, who has been with her every step of the way, went out to dinner following the ceremony; and Lou and Chris saw Beth and Paige off at the Portland airport on Sunday.
Paige will have canine companionship at Beth's home, where she lives with her boyfriend and her retired guide dog, Elsie.
"I got a text message from Beth with pictures of her retired dog, Elsie, and little Miss Paige," Lou said Sunday evening. "They were both sleeping, and all is well. Paige did great on the plane, and she and Beth are both ready for a good night's sleep! Beth is such a sweet lady. I'm so happy that Paige has a wonderful partner and new friend."
But Lou won't be without a dog for long - she is on the list to get a new guide dog puppy in September.
"I've been enjoying the peace and quiet far too long," she said. "It's been four months without a pup, and I'm definitely ready for one!"
As mentioned previously, not all puppies become guide dogs, as was the case with Paige's litter.
There were seven pups in Paige's litter; the mom, Lucinda, is a yellow lab, and the dad, Denzel, is a black lab. The four girls were all yellow. Paris was earmarked from the beginning to be donated to another service organization, and Paka had a cataract and was career-changed. Patina had been placed in the breeding program but was pulled out and put into training because of Paka's cataract, and she graduated from the San Rafael campus Aug. 10 and was assigned to a young lady who is a student in San Diego. Paige was on breeder watch but because of Paka's cataract, she was also put into training.
There were two yellow males in the litter plus one black one. Pueblo was career-changed at 6 or 7 months due to anxiety issues, and Pegasus, the only black pup, also was career-changed as he wasn't suited to being a guide dog. He was tried out as a K-9 buddy, but that wasn't his calling either, so he was returned to his raisers as their pet to live in his forever home in Vancouver. Poncho graduated in June and was assigned to a college teacher in La Habra, Calif.
For more information about the guide dog program, visit www.guidedogs.com or call 1-800-295-4050.