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Guide dogs, butterflies and enjoying life

In the beginning stages of basic training, puppies go everywhere with their trainers. Gracie with Connie and Randy Weidner after a boat ride.

In 2021, after living in Thousand Oaks, California for more than 60 years, Connie and Randy Weidner packed up their home and beloved 5-year-old pup Gracie and made the trek to Castle Pines to be close to their son Eric, daughter-in-law Marissa and two grandsons, Collin and Lucas.

Connie, an elementary school teacher of 31 years, and Randy, an engineering geologist for the Southern California Edison Company, are both fully retired and have acclimated to the cooler Colorado weather. They enjoy watching their grandsons’ seasonal sports of baseball, volleyball and basketball. Connie currently serves as a volunteer at the welcome center at AdventHealth Castle Rock and Randy is a hobbyist woodworker. He enjoys crafting cabinets, shelves and custom bird houses.

Both Connie and Randy love dogs. They were blessed with the companionship of Joey, their golden retriever, who passed away from cancer at 6 years old. Broken-hearted and recovering from a shoulder injury, it was Connie’s physical therapist who encouraged her to research her interest in raising service guide dogs.

Connie found Guide Dogs of America | Tender Loving Canines, an organization that breeds, raises, and trains dogs for individuals who are blind or visually impaired and service dogs for veterans and children with autism. The organization partnered with the Weidners and selected a young black Labrador retriever from a breeder in Massachusetts – Gracie.

Basic training was the first step. Wearing her yellow vest, Gracie traveled everywhere the Weidners went, including boats and cars. She visited restaurants and learned her basic commands – “sit,” “stay” and “close.” “Close” is very specific command for guide dogs – it tells the dog to sit between their owner’s legs to make themselves small. This command is hard for young pups, but in time they master the command. Through skilled training, these canines become trusted companions that increase people’s confidence, mobility and independence. Playtime games like catch are not recommended for the puppies in training as they must remain focused on the tasks at hand.

Just as Gracie was about to graduate basic training, a minute hip dysplasia was found during her exiting physical. Her career was forever changed, as she was no longer a candidate for a guide dog. Because guide dogs are so valuable to their owners, Connie explained, even minor physical ailments disqualify them from service. Instead, she became a beloved pet.

The Weidners raised another guide dog, a golden retriever, with close friends who went on to breed service guide dogs themselves.

The couple now enjoys their time with Gracie and she is free to have fun. Gracie enjoys playing with the neighbor’s dogs, walking the trails of the Timberline neighborhood and playing in the snow with her dog cousin.

After two moves in the area in the last three years, Connie and Randy are ready to explore more of Colorado and take in more of the local sights. They are scheduled to volunteer with Colorado Bluebird Project of Castle Rock to take part in a weekly count of nesting boxes this spring. Finally, they hope to raise monarch butterflies, as they once did in Thousand Oaks, so that they may set them free in their garden with “a kiss and a wish.”

The yellow vest signified Gracie was in training for a guide dog.


By Julie Matuszewski; photos courtesy of Connie and Randy Weidner




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