(Above: Toby and Asta: 2011)
I am sure that regular readers will not have forgotten a very special canine friend of ours:
ASTA is a Guide dog who spent her puppyhood in the committed care of my equally special friend - Lorraine.
Asta was Lorraine's first puppy as a 'puppy-walker'. Subsequent to Asta, she has nurtured "Themba" and "Keltex" too. I am always in awe of puppy-walkers - they give endless hours of their time in order to prepare these pups for a life with someone else. There is no other way to say this - puppy-walkers are angels on this earth!
Anyway, you may also remember that ASTA and Mr TOBY were very close canine-companions when they were puppies. Here are some pictures to remind you:
During ASTA's puppyhood, we organised many 'play sessions' for them. Asta and Toby were about the same age and adored each others' company. Sadly, it was inevitable that their time together would end.
In October 2011, we all said 'good-bye' to ASTA when she returned to the Guide-dog centre to begin her formal training. It was a bitter-sweet and tearful moment. Lorraine had done a sterling job - nurturing this young dog for her big journey. Lorraine's patience, dedication and care has shone through all the way and ASTA was ready for the hard work ahead.
While ASTA was interned at the GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND we relied on random snippets of information about her progress. She did go 'home' to Lorraine on one or two brief occasions, but that was all. Lorraine waited patiently for news about her impending graduation.
All went well and ASTA finally graduated in September 2012. She had spent nearly a year at Guide dogs before she was handed over to her new companion - Tracy Smith. Tracy has been blind from birth and had been waiting for a while for a new Guide dog. Asta and her formed an immediate bond during their orientation week and they finally went home to start their new life together.
(Above: Tracy with Guide-dog 'ASTA')
Quite coincidentally, I received an email from a young woman who had read my book "MAXDOG". Besides telling me about how my book had affected her, she also mentioned that she had a friend, called Tracy, who was blind and has a dog named Asta too. It was the same person and the same dog. To cut a long story short, Lorraine decided to organise a tea so that we could all meet one another. It would also give ASTA the opportunity to see and play with Mr TOBY again. It has been approximately 18 months since the two dogs last saw one another. We wondered how they'd respond when they met up again.
At 3pm on Sunday, TOBY and I made our way to Lorraine's house. Soon ASTA arrived with Tracy and Lee-Ann. They had hardly parked their car when ASTA bolted out of the passenger door. She knew immediately where she was and entertained us all with a dance of absolute delight. She bolted from one end of the property to the other in a celebration of familiarity. Then she roped up TOBY into a vigorous romp. TOBY was equally delighted to see his old friend again. After running around in circles for a while the two dogs ran straight through Lorraine's house to the back, where the swimming pool is located. Like old times, they swam and chased one another in jubilation. Amidst all this, I was also finally able to meet Tracy and Lee-Ann and we sat down to have a cup of tea and watch the dogs.
Here are some photos:
(Above: Asta - all grown up)
(Above: Asta and Mr Toby)
(Above: Mr Toby - finally calmed down)
(Above & Below: 'Asta' in the background and new puppy-in-training, 'Keltex' closest to the camera)
It was a lovely afternoon. We munched on an array of delicious nibbles as we took in the spectacle. Lorraine's new guide-dog puppy - KELTEX - was also present at the party. It was so uplifting to watch ASTA in her "old" home; she hadn't forgotten the place at all and seemed to be rekindling the connection with her puppy days and her old canine friend.
Having said this, I must also say that the working bond between ASTA and Tracy is incredibly strong - ASTA's attention is never far from her owner. Their relationship is tender, happy and loving. My heart went out to Lorraine too and I asked her how she felt about seeing ASTA again.
"It is so wonderful to see how she has grown and the bond she has formed with Tracy. She looks happy and beautiful. Seeing them together simply reinforces my feelings that, in the end, it is all worth it!" Lorraine said.
In addition, I imagine that Toby's take on the afternoon would be something like this:
"When are you coming to visit again, Asta?"
(Above: Mr Toby, Lorraine, LeeAnne, Tracy and Asta)
Thank you again to Lorraine, Tracy and LeeAnn for making our meeting possible.
Once again, I commend the amazing work of puppy-walkers in general. Their commitment to this cause is, quite frankly, amazing! To bring a puppy into your home, train it up and spend so much time nurturing it and then to give it back, is a heroic deed indeed!
The relationship that ASTA has with TRACY is testimony to the selflessness of these incredible people. I wish you all strength and encouragement as you go about your amazing work.
My thanks, too, goes to LeeAnn, who drove Tracy and Asta all the way across the city to come and visit us. She is an awesome friend to Tracy. You guys are a real team!
Sending lotsaluv and wishing Tacy and Asta many happy years together,