Friday, December 28, 2012

Cheryl McLean & Coach and Willow

Who is in the photo at right?

My name is Cheryl McLean and I am a high school librarian who happens to also raise guide dog puppies with my husband Fred for Southeastern Guide Dogs. This is Coach, our fourth Southeastern puppy. Coach is a male, black goldador (1/4 golden retriever, ¾ labrador) and he turned 9 months old this month.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I am sitting on my back porch relaxing with a good book (The Treachery of Beautiful Things), listening to the waterfall of the koi pond. Coach, Willow and I often sit out on the back porch and relax because being a guide dog puppy can be taxing and having some down time is good for Coach. Willow is a bit of a sun goddess and she likes to lie on the deck by the pond. I always stay under the awning, in the shade and keep Coach by my side. Florida is nice for being able to sit outside and enjoy the weather in December.

What's brewing?

I make a special cold brew with Community Coffee. I take a pound of Community Coffee with chicory (the New Orleans coffee) and add it to one gallon of water. Then I let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. After 24 hours, I strain it and I have a great coffee concentrate. That’s what I drink with milk every morning! Some mornings I might add a dash of sweetened condensed milk, just to change it up a bit. Nice and strong!

Any treats for you or your dogs on this occasion?

I made some pumpkin treats that I found online to give as Christmas gifts to all our doggie friends and to hand out as favors at our Southeastern Guide Dog Christmas Puppy Brunch. We had 25 puppy raisers and 15 dogs all at our house for brunch! It was quite a scene! All the puppies were very well behaved.

How did your dogs get their names? Any aliases?

Coach is named after Coach Dominich Ciao, our head football coach at Berkeley Preparatory School. One of our students, Austin Iglehart, raised $3500, all by himself during the Southeastern walkathon to name the puppy.

We have our own pet, a 12 year old chocolate lab female named Willow, who is named after the character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series.

How were you and your dogs united?

When I found out that Austin was trying to name a puppy, I told him that if he reached the $3500, I would raise it for him. I have been raising and bringing all my pups to school. The last two pups were named by Student Forum, our student government for upper division. Austin went with me to pick up Coach from the school.

Please tell us about your work training guide dogs for the blind.

Puppy raisers are the second stop on a guide dogs long journey before being matched with a visually impaired person. The first stop is the loving staff at the kennel nursery, then the puppy is assigned a sponsor, given a name and given to a puppy raiser. We usually have our puppies from 9 weeks to 13 to 15 months old. Our job is to teach them basic obedience and some very specific skills that Southeastern has trained us to do (such as directional skills, or how to get a dog to go under a chair properly). One of the most important things that we do is socialize the puppy. We take him or her everywhere with us: restaurants, movie theaters, plays, football games, etc. The reasoning behind it is that you want the puppy acclimated to the activity so that when the visually impaired owner takes him or her to the movies, it isn’t the dog’s first experience there. They know what to expect.

Consequently, all the funny, bizarre, and embarrassing things usually happen to the puppy raisers. And they mostly involve poo. Well, 50% of the time.

Squirrel, postman, cat....?

Coach is pretty good, but a lizard or a good sized grasshopper, he will divert his attention for that!

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

He isn’t allowed to have those toys. He can’t have a toy that he might encounter in real life and be distracted by (people throwing balls). So his favorite toy is a Kong Wubba.

What is each dog's best quality?

Coach is our first calm puppy. He is super sweet and sits to greet everyone. In fact, most people just fall in love with him and his calm nature.

Willow is forgiving and loving. If you are going to introduce a puppy to a dog, you need Willow in your house. She is the best!

If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I sing to them and I am tone deaf. I’m sure they would want me to stop!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which your dogs could speak, which actors should do their voices?

Coach would need Owen Wilson, because he has a little bump on his muzzle like Owen has a bump on his nose. They aren’t classically handsome. And I have to go with Alyson Hannigan for Willow. It’s a natural.

If your dogs could answer only one question in English, what would you ask them?

Coach: Why don’t you like riding in the car?

Willow: What makes catching a Frisbee so fun?

Visit the McLean Puppy Chronicles blog.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. That is a very sweet story. I am sure Coach will make a great guide dog. And Willow is just beautiful.

    1. Thanks so much. He is super smart. We think he will make a great guide dog as well!

  2. Two beautiful doggies. Someone will be so blessed to receive Coach.

    1. I agree! Not only is he smart, but he is calm and sweet. He's a natural guide, I think. He will be perfect for anyone. I think they will love him at Southeastern too, because he will be so easy to match with so many people. Everyone will love him!