You might see her at the library, a concert, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, Durango Public Library, the bank, on a plane or the Animas River Trail, but 4-month-old golden retriever puppy Greer will be instantly recognizable by her green service jacket.
Greer is undergoing her socialization training under the experienced tutelage of Nancy Peake, who is in her second decade of training puppies in preparation for the specialized instruction they will receive to become a guide dog for the visually impaired.
The training is detailed, with tight protocols and a 200-page manual. The socialization starts when the puppies are 8-weeks-old and continues for 15 to 17 months. Greer is just beginning her public training, because Peake had to wait until the puppy received her final vaccinations before she could be out and about.
“It is a commitment,” said Peake, who was inspired by Patricia McIvor, another Durango resident, to take on the task. “At first, it was much more difficult than I dreamed it would be, and then you find yourself doing things automatically, and you don’t have to think about them.”
Many local dog lovers ask her the same question: How does someone receive a loving, squirming bundle of fur and 15 months later say goodbye?
“It’s something that gives somebody the freedom to be themselves and really live their lives,” Peake said. “When you see what they mean to the people who receive them, it’s all worthwhile.”
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to say goodbye. Members of the Southwest Bright Eyes guide dog puppy-raising group – which includes other puppy raisers Jim and Sue Mooney, Wayne and Sue Caplan and John and Beth Creager, who are raising their first – drive to Grand Junction to drop off the socialized puppies and pick up new 8-week-old bundles of joy from a truck that travels from California to Denver.
“Some dogs are easier to say goodbye to than others,” Peake said. “For the first couple, they had us walk into the truck and put the dog in the kennel. That was heartbreaking.”
Now, the people from Guide Dogs for the Blind take the dogs into the truck for them.
“The dogs go on the truck and look back, wondering why we’re not going with them,” she said. “We’ll be standing there with the new puppies in our arms crying into their fur. It’s a good thing those puppies are cute.”
Where are her dogs now?
“One young woman who works at the Pentagon got Annalisa, who had to guide her onto a bus then onto the subway to get to work,” Peake said about puppy No. 3. “Then Annalisa had to guide her around the maze of that huge building.”
Two of her dogs went to Canada. Ayanna, No. 6, works with a bank executive in Toronto, who also has to navigate public transportation and busy city streets. Pembrook, Peake’s first puppy, was the guide for a woman in British Columbia until the woman had to have surgery on both knees and wouldn’t be able to take care of him. The decision was made to retire him, and he’s now close to home, living with Eb and K Redford in Falls Creek, where Peake and her husband, Byard, also live.
“The woman had another dog before Pembrook, who was always distracted by the ducks in a pond they walked by,” Peake said. “Pembrook ignored the ducks, but he went for food. She went to a coffee shop every day and would hear people laughing as they walked by. Pembrook was grabbing a cupcake or a muffin.”
Two of the dogs she has raised have not become guide dogs. They’re canine buddies, given to visually impaired children to accustom them to caring for a dog and having a companion. Children have to be 16 to train to be a guide dog owner.
“One is a little girl who’s 9,” Peake said. “She felt like she didn’t have any friends. But when she has Muffin with her, everyone talks to her. Many of the recipients say they don’t feel so alone anymore, and that first day they take their walk across (Guide Dogs for the Blind’s) campus, they feel so free.”
Tarragon, No. 2, had the potential to have a vision problem of her own. She returned to be Byard Peake’s hiking companion for the past 12 years. Everly, No. 10, also came home to Falls Creek – she became a different kind of service dog, providing companionship and support to a wounded warrior struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not uncommon for puppies to be career-changers after the socialization if trainers feel they won’t be dependable guide dogs but might still serve in other ways.
Some dogs, like those Miranda Framer has raised, are prime candidates for breeding strong, healthy puppies with no bad habits.
Peake worked in advertising in the New York City area before earning her doctorate in Southwest Studies after moving to Corrales, New Mexico. The Peakes lived there for 20 years before moving to Durango full time in 2001.
She has always been a volunteer, taking the puppies with her, whether it was to a Music in the Mountains concert or ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. She is stepping down as president of Durango Friends of the Library after four years in part because she wants to focus more on working with the puppies, which she says is the most rewarding volunteering she has ever done.