Bitmoji photo of Joseph Gruber

Joseph Gruber

Thoughts from a spacecraft engineering manager, photographer, coffee aficionado, and future Mars resident.

My Journey with Sir Galahad

Guiding Eyes for the Blind Galahad as a 3-month old puppy looks up into the camera

Not a tale of the search for the holy grail nor adventures with the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, my journey with Sir Galahad has much more humbler beginnings. Normally at this time of year, around my birthday, I’d look back at the previous year and contemplate the lessons I’ve learned and the adventures had. This year though, each of my adventures and lessons have one consistent theme - Galahad.

On July 18th last year I received a phone call that Galahad was on his way. I hung up the phone and immediately said to myself, “What’s a Galahad?!” Clearly I was not as well read as I’d like to be as at that time I was not familiar with the King Arthur stories. But let’s go back several months prior for a moment, where the real story begins.

In late 2012, for no specific reason, at least that I can remember, I signed up to be a volunteer puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB). What’s a puppy raiser you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like. I would take in a 2-month old puppy, that is preparing to be a future guide dog for the blind and visually impaired, and over the next 16 months provide the experiences, training, and exposures it needed on it’s way to becoming a great guide dog. Sounded fun and an interesting experience at the time - how little did I know what an experience it would be!

Holiday (left), Galahad (center), and Galaxy (right) with their new puppy raisers

A few months later I was sitting in GEB puppy pre-placement classes where the GEB Regional Manager and their volunteer staff attempted to teach us - there were two other new puppy raisers in my class - the basics that would get us through the first few weeks with our new puppies. Having completed the pre-placement classes, and shortly after completing my Master’s degree thankfully, that fateful day in July arrived.

Arriving at the house of the GEB volunteer who drove the puppies down from New York, where GEB is headquartered, I was greeted by three adorable eight-week old puppies - Holiday (black female lab), Galahad (yellow male lab), and Galaxy (yellow male lab)! Holiday was from a different litter but Galahad and Galaxy were brothers and even to this day continue to act up around each other, as one would expect brothers to do. After initial wet puppy kisses and the obligatory photos, I headed home with this little 12 pound ball of fur to start our journey together.

I have to give Galahad credit where it’s due - he was an excellent puppy, at least in the areas where you normally expect there to be issues. Not once, save the first night, has he ever woken me up in the middle of the night. And he was quickly housebroken with only a few minor incidents in the house those first few weeks. A special thanks goes out to the GEB Home Socializers who provide these special dogs a great start to life as early as a few weeks old.

Galahad lays on the floor, sprawled out like Superman, at his first class

But that’s not to say Galahad had the qualities you would expect out of someone with such a prestigious name. No, those first two months were certainly challenging! See, Galahad liked to nip at hands and feet with those little, razor sharp puppy teeth and chew on anything he could get his tiny mouth around. I quickly learned to wear socks at home and even those didn’t provide full protection as those baby teeth of his would go right through the socks. He also, as you would expect, had boundless amounts of non-stop energy. I’m pretty sure at that age he could have run a marathon and still had energy left over. But thanks to the great assistance of the regional GEB staff, along with my puppy partner (sort of like a mentor), Galahad quickly grew out of these behaviors.

This journey with Galahad wasn’t just all fun and games though. Each week, from two months of age to six months of age, we both went to class where Galahad learned new skills and I learned how to continue teaching him these skills outside of the classroom environment. From basic skills such as Sit, Down, and Come to more specific skills such as Close, Settling, and waiting patiently for his food, there was a lot for Galahad, as well as I, to learn over the past year.

Around November of last year, when Galahad turned six months old, four months after he arrived, we had our first “Walk and Talk”. The Walk and Talks allow for Guiding Eyes for the Blind to ascertain how Galahad was progressing as well as answer any questions or issues I had. While there were several areas that Galahad and I needed to focus on - he was a six-month old Lab puppy after all - he did very well and it marked two important occasions in our journey together. First, we no longer had to attend puppy class every weekend and instead only had to go to class every other weekend! Second, Galahad “earned” his GEB puppy jacket marking yet another milestone in his journey to being a future guide dog.

Galahad, with his Guiding Eyes vest on, in a 'Down' while watching a 5K race

With his new puppy jacket, and as he showed steady improvement in his behavior, Galahad’s world continued to grow and with it the social exposures that will hopefully serve him well as a guide dog. From his first ride on the Metro, to adventures at the orchard in the Fall, and outings including to the National Air and Space Museum and Reagan National Airport, Galahad has certainly taken advantage of his time here in the Washington, D.C. area. He even took a trip to the White House, but sadly, First Dog Bo wouldn’t come out and play.

But alas, my journey with Sir Galahad does have an ending. One that is both a happy moment and a sad one at the same time. Two months from now, in October, Galahad will head off to New York, back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind headquarters, as he prepares to continue his ultimate journey in becoming a guide dog. Not every guide dog puppy becomes a guide dog though and the first step on that trek is the “In For Training” (IFT) test.

The IFT test allows the GEB trainers to evaluate if Galahad is truly ready and willing to become a guide dog, after all, it really is his choice on what he ends up doing in life. If a guide dog career is what his “choice” is and he ends up passing his IFT test, Galahad will begin more advanced training with the trainers at GEB. Even if a guide dog career is not in the cards, there are a multitude of other careers Galahad could choose including a drug detection dog, autism service dog, or even the GEB breeding colony. And if in the end, Galahad just wants to be a pet, there are a multitude of families and individuals just ready to adopt these well socialized and extremely well behaved dogs.

Galahad lazily stares into the camera

Yes, it will be a sad day when our journey together ends but Galahad is off to do bigger and better things, hopefully providing greater independence for a blind or visually impaired person. Was this journey easy? Let me be the first to say, not at all! There were times, especially early on in the first month, where I was tempted to call GEB and ask them to take Galahad back. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t excited that I’ll be dog-free soon. But would I do it again? Absolutely.

It has truly been a fantastic experience and an incredible learning opportunity. And who knows, maybe I’ll end up being a puppy raiser for another GEB puppy in the future. Meanwhile, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Galahad’s future successes and the success of his brother Galaxy, his friends from the local GEB region, and all those puppies being raised now and in the future by volunteer puppy raisers!

Galahad rests at Long Bridge Park during a pretty, pink sunset

Be sure to follow Galahad on his Twitter account, @AstroPuppy, as he and I wrap up our journey and he prepares to head back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Also, for more photos, check out Flickr. Plus, if my journey over the past 16 months with Galahad has inspired you please consider either volunteering for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (there are many roles beyond puppy raiser!) or help by providing a tax-deductible donation!

14-October Update: Galahad passed his In For Training test! He’ll now be moving forward with more advanced training!