By Sharon Sheridan
Guide dogs in training are a familiar sight along the streets of Morristown, home of the Seeing Eye. But on Saturday, one dog will take an extra-special walk as she prepares to enter the next phase of her education.
At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, 13-year-old Carlye Cording of Tewksbury will join Harry and Mary Ellen Simon at their art gallery in Morristown to begin a final group walk with Lala, the Seeing Eye puppy they jointly raised in honor of Lauren Failla. In 2010, Lauren, 25, was killed while vacationing in India.
The Simons, who had raised several Seeing Eye puppies, were inspired to raise one more after hearing Lauren’s cousin, the Rev. John Brantley, give a eulogy at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in which he challenged listeners to go out and do something positive in Lauren’s name.
At the time, however, they did not have the $5,000 required to name a Seeing Eye puppy.
Harry called a friend who volunteered with the Seeing Eye, hoping she would know someone who would want to participate in raising a puppy with the Simons. “I was looking for a young girl to kind of embrace the spirit of raising this Seeing Eye puppy.”
Coincidentally, Leslie Cording was volunteering at the Seeing Eye puppy-breeding station. She’d been fascinated by the Seeing Eye since she was a fifth-grader. “I would take out all the books about guide dogs.”
Learning about the Simons’ request, she embraced the opportunity for Carlye to help raise a puppy in Lauren’s honor. “We’d had a lot of stuff going on in our family. I thought this would be a really great opportunity for Carlye to do something for someone else that would really help her as well.”
And so, a year and a half ago, an 8-week-old puppy arrived at the Simon Gallery on Bank Street.
“She was adorable, and I loved it that she had on a hot pink collar and leash – so snazzy!” recalled Lauren’s mother, Kay. “She really was just a love, even then.”
“The name Lala was [Lauren’s] Texas cousins’ nickname for her,” she explained. “The little ones couldn’t say Lauren; they said Lala.”
“It was wonderful to see the joy that this frisky, spirited puppy brought Carlye and to see what she was learning: the responsibility, the training that she did with Lala. I think she learned a lot, and it appeared to be a really good experience, and she took it very seriously. She was very responsible about it.”
Carley accompanied Lala to training classes every Monday. “We do the basics of training, and then when she goes back [to the Seeing Eye] they’ll teach her all of the stuff she needs to guide someone,” Carlye said.
Lala has learned commands such as sit, down, come and rest as well as to sit at crosswalks and walk on her handler’s left, she said. “Harry and I have really worked on that, and she’s really great walking on a leash.”
Typically, one of the Simons takes Lala for daily walks, but the puppy has spent time in both family homes.
“Since I’m in school, she usually lives at the Simons’ house, and then some weekends she’ll come and live at my house,” Carlye said. “We sort of alternate.”
Helping raise Lala was a dream fulfilled.
“I wanted to raise a Seeing Eye puppy, and so my mom and Harry surprised me with Lala,” she said. “It was a very nice surprise.”
“It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot, and she’s been such a good dog,” she said.
On Saturday, the Simons, the Cordings and Kay and Frank Failla are inviting others to join them in accompanying Lala on a ceremonial walk along her usual route through town. The idea, Harry said, is that “anyone else that’s done something in Lauren’s honor could just take a walk with the dog that was raised in her honor.”
The walk will take about 20 minutes, starting at the Simon Gallery at 11:30 a.m.
Soon, Lala will move on to the next phase of her training with the Seeing Eye.
“It’s gonna be really hard,” Carlye said. “I’m trying to prepare myself, but, yeah, I’m nervous about that.”
Said Kay, “I’ve certainly felt a bond with this dog named in Lauren’s memory. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to have lived with her for a year and a half, and knowing that it’s always been to go on … for formal training with the Seeing Eye. I think it would be so hard to give her up. It is bittersweet for us. I keep trying to think about the greater good.”
Bittersweet – “That is probably the perfect word for it,” Leslie said. “I think when she actually goes, it’s going to be really emotional. But I think letting her go is going to be almost emotional with a good feeling, like an excitement for her.”
One of her other daughters, Katy in Washington, D.C., is raising a guide dog through another organization. And she and Carlye are thinking of raising another Seeing Eye puppy on their own in the future. “I think it has been a really good experience for her.”
You can read more about Carlye’s experiences raising Lala at her blog here.
For information about participating in Saturday’s walk, contact the Simons at the gallery here.