The Caplans, a Colorado couple, want to give back. Their former working lives enabled good health and good fortune to follow them in retirement. Besides volunteering in several Rocky Mountain community groups, they’re raising Enrique.

Enrique is a dog, but not just any old canine or homestead pet. A handsome blond Lab, Enrique is in training with the Caplans to be a guide dog for the blind. Both the Caplans and Enrique are my Colorado neighbors. In knowing them, I observe the true meaning of giving back.

Enrique came to the Caplans as a pup, born to the Grand Junction branch of Colorado’s Guide Dogs for the Blind. Enrique was raised there for the first four months of his canine life, then entrusted to the Caplan’s care for the next two years. They were charged with raising Enrique according to the stringent requirements of a guide dog in training.

In the end, the Caplans will give back by giving Enrique back to Guide Dogs for the Blind in Grand Junction. Four more months of training after that will certify Enrique as a guide dog, whereupon he will serve a blind person for about eight years. After that, even Enrique can retire from canine service duty.

It takes special people to raise a pup to the requirements of a service dog. Training a guide dog vastly differs from raising a household pet. No free treats can reward a whining canine, nor can fire hydrants act as targets for relief. The Caplans are required to use certain words for certain commands. Enrique must learn to recognize those words and respond with the required behavior. And, without getting specific, Enrique’s bathroom habits will develop differently from those of a neighborhood pooch.

While it sounds like boot camp, Enrique’s training will enable him to perform well and naturally in service to the blind. Enrique has a job. His job is to work. His work is to be the eyes of his master, enabling a life to become as normal as it might be for a sighted person. My own metaphor for Enrique is that he’s a lot like a military man, trained to serve Americans in maintaining independence and freedom.

Lest readers think that it’s all work and no play, Enrique is allowed to be the dog that he is. Free time to run around, bark, play with other dogs, or catch a gopher are granted when the workday is done. Enrique has even been known to chew through shoes when no one is looking. But Enrique has a higher calling and when called to straighten up and act like the disciplined creature to which he aspires, he does.

Well, mostly. The Caplans say Enrique isn’t quite there yet, but their handsome puppy Lab is headed for stardom in service. When that time comes, the Caplans will indeed be giving back as they return Enrique to Grand Junction for final training. From there, Enrique will dedicate his life to give back the independence the blind lost with their sight.

 written by Lorraine Yapps-Cohen

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