What Love Can Do by Joan Bauer
I saw the noses first. They were poking through the gate. “Come around the back,” I was told. “We meet in the yard.” I was excited — I was here to begin researching my 14th novel for young people. I love dogs and these were special ones— part of a guide dog-in-training puppy playgroup in Silver Spring MD. I love to tell stories of people who respond to the challenges in life by helping others. I wanted Olive, my twelve-year-old protagonist, to have that kind of heart.
The gate opened.
There were eight dogs, still puppies, all blowing off steam. The very young ones had a black ring in their mouths and they dragged each other back and forth across the yard. Two of the older dogs tolerated the young puppies’ exuberance. One of the dogs was named Joan, my name — the only known dog named Joan, I’m certain. And this Joan was, well, rambunctious. A man kept saying,
Joan, time out!
I heard that a lot growing up.
And I did sit. I try to respect authority now that I’m older.
For the next three hours, I hugged the dogs and interviewed the Guiding Eyes for the Blind volunteers who were their raisers. Raisers, not trainers. The distinction is important — raisers take the puppies into their homes at eight weeks of age and raise them to be family members and good citizens. They teach the puppies how to acclimate to noises, stores, buses, and cars; how not to jump on the furniture or eat food off the floor; how to poop in one place and respond quickly to rules and commands. If, after a year of raising, a dog shows it has the right stuff, the dog goes to guide dog training school. Even there, not every dog makes the grade. The ones that do are the best of the best and they are matched with a blind companion.
The next step for the raiser is saying goodbye to a dog they’ve raised as their own. It’s the Big Impossible.
“How,” I asked the raisers, “do you do that?”
It’s heartbreaking, they told me.
You lean against your car in a parking lot and sob.
There’s this hole in your life — you go home and the dog’s gone. It hit me harder than I thought it would.
And often, one raiser mentioned, you volunteer to do it again. He’d raised seven dogs for the program.
“I don’t think I could could that.” I told them.
From the beginning, you have to tell yourself, this puppy I love like crazy isn’t really my dog. I’m doing this for someone who needs the dog more than I do.
I realized I was standing in a yard surrounded by heroes. I mentioned this to several raisers who shook their heads.
This is just something we do to give back.
When I begin to work on a story and someone asks, what’s it about? I’m not sure how to answer because the truth is, I’m not sure yet. I know some things about the story and the characters and theme, but not all. When the connection comes — when the bridge is built between the different aspects of the story; when I can hear the protagonist’s voice; when I feel the tension in her gut; when my eyes get wet when she cries; when I cheer when she does something colossally brave, and groan when she’s about to do something stupid — then I know I’ve found the real story.
Something was clicking into place for me that day in Brian’s backyard.
I heard, “Joan, no!”
I didn’t do anything!
Joan the dog cocked her head and gazed at me.
I saw the bridge rising up that would help me write the story of Olive Hudson, age 12, who has suffered great loss, who wants a dog with everything she’s got.
And then I knew:
This is a novel about what love can do. And how it grows.
This is a novel about what happens when you put love into action.
It morphs into super human strength.
It sends out waves of kindness that can change a life.
I wanted Olive have the heart and generosity of a raiser.
I needed to know more, and that need took me to The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog training facility in the country. Every inch of The Seeing Eye’s campus in Morristown, NJ underscores their mission — to bring freedom and dignity to the blind. I was undone.
I met Chance, a warm, wiggling, eight-week-old Seeing Eye puppy. He licked my face. I held him and held him.
You’re a hero dog — do you know that?
You think my jacket is a chew toy…
You really need to pee — don’t you?
It killed me to put him down. I met raisers, tour guides, a senior trainer, marvelous marketing people, a school group, a visually impaired woman and her guide dog. And the glue that held this all together was love.
Love of dogs.
Love of people.
Love of service.
Love of life.
Loving, even when it hurts, even when it’s sacrificial. Reaching out to help someone you don’t know have a better life.
Kids need stories more than ever to help them navigate our dark and complex world. To show them the power of a greater purpose is something I try to do in my books. I hope that Raising Lumie will illustrate what I believe — there are few things more powerful in this world than a young person who has found her passion, found her voice, and goes out into the world to make a difference.
Joan Bauer is the author of numerous books for young readers. She received a Newbery Honor Medal for Hope Was Here, and the L.A. Times Book Prize for Rules of the Road. The Christopher Award was given to both Hope was Here and Close to Famous, which also received the Schneider Family Book Award. Joan is the recipient of numerous state awards voted by readers. Bauer lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her at http://www.joanbauer.com.