We recently put out a request for previous or current Co-Pilots (puppy raisers) to share their experiences in hopes of encouraging others to join our team…here is Kaylyn’s inspirational story!
I saw the Facebook post looking for Co-pilots to share their experiences. I Co-piloted for Pilot Dogs from 2/2010 to 1/2011. My puppy was Lila, a black poodle born 12/23/2009.
I was a junior in high school when my horse died, and I suddenly found myself with a large amount of free time. I’d always been interested in puppy raising thanks to an American Girl feature I’d seen when I was much younger, but had never had the time or a local organization to raise through. With my new free time I started to research puppy raising seriously, and found Pilot Dogs within a reasonable distance to me in Louisville, KY. I applied to be a Co-pilot thinking it would take some time to hear anything…it was maybe a week later that I got an email saying there was a puppy for me, and was I interested? Of course I jumped on the opportunity, and we picked Lila up mid-February.
Co-piloting was great, and helped me as much as it helped Lila’s future partner. I was grieving the loss of my horse, and having Lila helped me maintain having something to care for. She gave me another outlet to put my time and energy into. Continuing to be able to develop an animal for a specific purpose, and the challenge of finding new sights, sounds, smells, and all kinds of experiences to create a well-rounded working dog was so motivating for me. Every day was an adventure with her, and she was such a great puppy – every challenge I presented her with she accomplished easily. She impressed me every single day.
It’s impossible to not get attached to your puppy. They worm their way into your heart the second you lay your eyes on them, and you can’t help but to love them unconditionally and immediately. Going into Co-piloting, however, knowing that I was going to say goodbye in about a year to another animal that I would love and would put so much time into was surprisingly easy. Thinking of her future partner was what kept me at peace with the idea of her leaving after a year, and if I couldn’t keep her at arm’s length, I was at least okay with keeping her at wrist’s length. Honestly, the situation was entirely win-win-win if she graduated, was chosen to become a mom for future puppies, or if she got to come back to me. All of those outcomes are fantastic, and no one can really lose when any of those three happen! Of course I was sad when we dropped her back off, but nothing can compare to the sheer pride and joy I felt when I got a letter and a photo from Pilot Dogs of Lila and her new partner at graduation. There were more tears that day, of course, but incredibly happy ones. That letter alone was worth it all.
The ability to give back in that way was indescribable. Nothing can compare. If it’s ever been something someone has thought of doing – go for it. I do not have one single regret from my experience, and if time in my personal life ever allows for me to puppy raise again, I will come SPRINTING back to Pilot Dogs at the earliest opportunity. Communication with the organization was great, and if I ever had any questions or concerns they were easily reachable. Even though I was a couple hundred miles away, I felt 100% supported by the organization. The impact it makes on you is incredible. It’s been 10 years since I Co-Piloted, and I still talk about it (“I trained a guide dog” is a fantastic fun fact to share!). It was such a life-changing experience for me and my family. Giving a year of my time to a complete stranger helped to shape me as as a young adult. Because of this experience, to this day my family and I continue to give to local families fundraising for a service dog or to the facility dogs at our local pediatric hospital since time no longer allows for us to be directly involved in raising puppies.
I’ve attached photos of Lila on pick up day, out training at a state park, and on return day with my personal dog and myself. (Cell phone photos weren’t quite as prolific or as high quality back then as they are now.)
Again, it’s 10 years later, but thank you Pilot Dogs for the opportunity to have been a Co-Pilot. I can’t thank you all enough!