For the next part of this story, Dodger has to take a backseat (literally) to Bagheera. As many of you know, Bagheera was a guide dog who had to be retired early due to medical issues. Bagheera was the first guide dog for his human teammate, Jason, who is back to get a new dog. I arranged with Jason to get together for lunch so we could catch up and he could see Bagheera again.
When I arrived to get Jason, Bagheera's trainers were out front. One of them told me where I could find Jason and asked, "Did you bring him?" Yes. "Can we see him?" Yes. So Bagheera had a fun reunion with his trainers first. Then I brought Bagheera to see Jason, and he had even more fun. I had Bagheera ride in the front seat with Jason "like old times" as we drove to lunch.
Fred and Cheryl led the way to a place they knew on the beach on Anna Maria Island. It only took us two days to get there. (Kidding!) We all had a great lunch, and the three puppy raisers learned a lot from Jason about what it's like to be sight-impaired and work with a guide dog. There was also some unpleasantness about somebody's wallet being eaten by somebody's puppy, but let's not go there.
I took Jason back and met his new guide, who's working out great even though Bagheera is a tough act to follow. We made plans to meet again at next year's Walkathon.
I had just enough time to drive home to St. Pete, feed the dogs, change, and drive back for the Walkathon banquet. The banquet is like the Walkathon in better clothes – a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. (For example, I got to meet and talk with Nick from Tampa, who hosted the mother of Chuck and Debbie's first guide dog puppy, Dylan. Now that's old school.) Oh, and there's food (pretty tasty, actually), and you tend to sit more than you walk.
But the highlight of the dinner was when one of our very own raisers was named Volunteer of the Year! (Go south side!)
The north group was also represented when Graduate of the Year Tim was accompanied onstage by his smooth-coat collie guide JC, who was raised in the north group (and sponsored by a Suncoast alum). Even the Philanthropist of the Year is from our area, so it was a good night for us! (Gotta wrest Puppy Raiser of the Year from those Texans, though.)
All in all, an exciting couple of days full of good times. My only regret is that I didn't have enough hands to bring Angel. Maybe next year.