Back in August 2007, my wife Linda and I took on the role of Seeing Eye “puppy raisers” for our first time — hosting a wonderfully affectionate, “high-energy”, black Labrador retriever puppy named Zuke. But ultimately, we knew we’d need to say good-bye to Zuke sometime in the late 2008 / early 2009 timeframe, at which point he’d return back to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ to begin formal training on his continued journey to potentially becoming a full-fledged Seeing Eye dog guide. Knowing this ahead of time still made saying our good-bye’s to Zuke last Thursday a day filled with mixed emotions.
On one hand, we felt a sense of accomplishment that we’d given Zuke the best foundation we could during this early stage in the program – socializing him to as many “real-world” experiences as possible: walks in the park, walks downtown, car rides, retail shops, school activities, hospitals, children in the neighborhood, etc… But on the other hand, we also knew we’d be saying good-bye to a lovable puppy who increasingly worked his way into our hearts with each passing day he was with us. He even greeted many a client who came in for a studio photo session or to pick up a print order!
Zuke was a tremendous gift for us during the 18 months we raised him, and he undoubtedly changed our lives — and those near to us — immensely. Simply stated, “life was good” with him in it. Saying “good-bye” was undeniably very difficult, but the time had come to see if Zuke is ready to fulfill a greater purpose. I will forever be amazed at how quickly he became such a loyal friend and companion. His energy level — even by puppy standards — seemed nearly unbounded… to the extent that even now, there are times I think he’ll be lurking right around the corner contently playing with a toy, lifting his head up with curiosity and anticipation as he’d hear my footsteps draw closer. But then reality sets in, and the fact that his toys sit quietly in a corner confirms he has now entered the next phase of the program — one that will critically determine whether he’s ready to be the guiding eyes for someone who’ll need him to help build greater independence while moving about in their world.
Naturally, we captured countless pictures of Zuke. A few are simple snapshots, while many are the result of the attention to details that are simply a part of what we do — creating very special images. We even managed to set aside some fun time for a quick “studio session” with Zuke the day before he went back to New Jersey! All in all, this collection of 88 images set to light music simply tells the story of Zuke — just being Zuke — at this early, formidable chapter in his life. Enjoy!!!
Some of you have asked how it’s possible to say “good-bye” to a puppy like Zuke. Actually, it’s tough — very tough, in fact. But these are the thoughts I whispered into his ear while giving him a few kisses before his ride back to The Seeing Eye on Thursday: “Fulfill your ultimate destiny, my puppy friend!!! In your relatively short stay with us, you’ve already done more good here than you’ll ever realize. And if you’re successfully matched with a Seeing Eye companion, may you be doubly good to your new partner as well. Remember us forever… and may God bless you always!”.