Meet 10-year-old Ella and her K9 Buddy Lafferty, who hail from Southern California. Ella and Lafferty have been paired as a team since June of 2019, and Ella's mom, Christy, says that the bond between the two has been a joy to behold.
"Lafferty could not be more perfect for Ella and for our family," she said. "He immediately bonded with Ella and then charmed everyone with his sweet laid back personality. He is so incredibly gentle with Ella despite weighing nearly twice as much as she does!"
Ella is learning the responsibility of having a dog by caring for Lafferty. "Making sure Lafferty is safe has been a big step for Ella," Christy said. "Lafferty needs her. She brushes him. She loves to introduce him to people. They're friends, a team. And she has enjoyed learning how to take care of him and giving him food rewards for following commands when she is working with him."
In addition to learning to care for Lafferty, Christy says Ella's personality has blossomed as well. "I have been a little weepy at times, watching those two together and thinking about the changes we are noticing in Ella's social skills since we got Lafferty," she said. "She's coming out of her shell more, and has grown in confidence. At Girl Scout camp, she was shy and withdrawn. After she got Lafferty, her experience at camp was totally different. She was playing with kids she didn't know and engaging with people a lot more. She just seems happier, more open somehow since she got him."
Another benefit of having a K9 Buddy is that Ella and her family have gained an entire community of people eager to cheer their success. "Can I just add that the people we've met through Guide Dogs for the Blind have been amazing?" Christy said. "Our local puppy raising club is the BEST and has been so supportive of Ella and Lafferty, and our entire family. They threw Ella and Lafferty a puppy shower! We left with a basket full of chew toys, an autographed picture, and a really special personalized food bowl and bandana for Lafferty. It was so thoughtful!"
After that initial puppy club experience, the whole family continued to participate in the club meetings as a way to stay connected with the people and organization, as well as to give Ella some handling confidence and keep Lafferty’s training fresh. It was there that Ella’s older sister, Amanda, became inspired to get more involved with GDB as well. The club leader recognized Amanda’s enthusiasm and began teaching her some of the dog handling skills that the puppy raisers use. "I would find Amanda binge watching GDB puppy raising tutorials!" Christy said.
The family then became official puppy sitting volunteers, which gave them a taste of what it might be like to raise a puppy themselves. "Puppy sitting was sort of a litmus test for whether a puppy in training would be comfortable with kids, cats, and all the daily commotion in our home like screeching violin, choir practice, bouncing basketballs, zoom PE, and bikes and scooters whizzing by," Christy said. "So when Amanda was considering a service project for her Girl Scouts Silver Award, there was never any doubt it would be puppy raising for GDB." Amanda is now raising a yellow lab guide dog puppy named Honor.
"Lafferty’s raisers on Vashon Island, Wash., and our own Southern California puppy club volunteers continue to be a wonderful cheering section and supportive network for our family," Christy said. "We are so grateful to them, and to Lafferty, who started it all and continues to be a light in our lives."
When Ella was asked what feelings she had for Lafferty, she said, "love, happiness, and safety" - and Christy agrees. "It doesn't get any better than that," Christy said. "Thank you for sending us this kind, wonderful, handsome dog. He is the kind of dog who steals your heart and ruins you forever for all other dogs. He is that special. Our family thanks you."
Here's wishing Amanda and Honor great success in their puppy raising experience, and happy trails to Ella and Lafferty in their future adventures!
At GDB, we believe that a dog can make a remarkable difference in any child's life by fostering a sense of caring, companionship, and a sense of responsibility through the human/animal bond. To learn more about this program, please visit K9 Buddy Program page.