When Mark Kelly began to raise a Future CNIB Guide Dog, he didn't realize how life changing it would be – not just for him, but for a Canadian with sight loss.
In December 2018, the senior graphic designer for the Ottawa Senators received Rookie, a black Labrador-Retriever, to raise for the next 12-15 months. At just 12 weeks, the pup was being cheered on by thousands of fans and surrounded by hockey greatness.
“I wanted to raise a Future CNIB Guide Dog because it sounded like an amazing experience. To care for, socialize and help train a puppy to become a guide dog sounded like an adventure. I could bring the dog everywhere, even work," says Mark. “I was so excited to meet and hold Rookie for the first time, and to bring him to the Ottawa Senators’ office for his first visit. Everybody was in awe of him, but he was so laid back that he instantly found a spot under a desk to fall asleep.”
Rookie was named by the Sens fans. As he grew up at the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the Ottawa Senators, the players focused on speed, agility, strength and stamina, and he learned basic obedience and socialization. He even showed off his newly mastered cue, "leave it", before thousands of fans when he dropped the puck in a ceremonial faceoff at a home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mark brought Rookie to work with him every day. Their walks through the stadium would often bring them to the Senators’ dressing room, where Rookie greeted the players. After practice, Rookie loved playing on the ice with the team.
“Rookie knows hockey. He loved watching the team practice every morning, staring intensely at the puck as it travelled up and down the ice,” says Mark. “But when the Sens left the ice and a visiting team came on to practice, he would turn his back to lay the other way and take a nap – he’s a loyal Sens fan!”
Rookie also loved to run around in Mark's backyard and go for walks. He especially enjoyed swimming, whether it was a kiddie pool or a river.
“You could find a couple of inches of water anywhere and Rookie would lie down in it,” jokes Mark.
When he wasn’t playing on the ice or greeting the players, Rookie was a “very serious puppy”.
“Even at three-months-old, you could tell Rookie to sit and stay and he wouldn’t move until he was given the cue to come,” says Mark. “He’s very intelligent and mastered many of his guide dog cues, including finding a seat, pointing his nose to a crosswalk button or going up and down stairs.”
In January 2020, Rookie is headed to the Canine Campus in Carleton Place, Ontario to begin advanced training.
“We’re all so proud of Rookie and it feels amazing to be a part of the team that helped raise an amazing dog that is helping someone living with sight loss,” says Mark. “He’s calm, loving and smart. Anyone who meets him always said, ‘Why can’t my dog be as well behaved as Rookie?'”
In September 2020, Rookie started his career as a CNIB Guide Dog when he was matched with Shelley Adams in Halifax. With shooting pucks and cheering fans every step of the way, Mark and the Ottawa Sens set him up for success. Thanks, Mark!