January 29th marks National Seeing Eye Dog Day. It is also the 90th anniversary of The Seeing Eye organization, the first guide dog school founded in the United States and the oldest existing in the world.
Seeing Eye® dogs or, guide dogs as they are also called, are more than companion animals for someone who is visually impaired or legally blind. They are truly transformational assistants enhancing the independence, dignity and the self-confidence of the person they are paired with for life.
Raising dogs for this life-altering work is both time consuming and very expensive. Organizations such as The Seeing Eye® and Guide Dogs of America breed their own puppies and then work with volunteer puppy raisers to raise these dogs until they are old enough to undergo the special training needed for them to take care of a visually impaired person. They also pair and train a blind person how to handle and care for a guide dog.
Being a puppy raiser can be very rewarding experience as the dog becomes a beloved family member while they are being raised and socialized by their foster family.
Guide dog training organizations have regional puppy raising coordinators throughout the country who oversee volunteer puppy raisers and their initial training.
While having some knowledge of dog obedience training is useful, it is not a prerequisite to be successfully selected to help raise a guide dog puppy. Nevertheless, from the get go, a puppy must be taught to have impeccable manners around the home and taught not to jump on furniture, dig up the yard and be crate-trained.
“A potential puppy raiser is first invited to attend puppy club meetings in their region,” explained Michelle Barlak, public relations specialist for The Seeing Eye, Inc. “Each family must attend the meetings, puppy sit for other raisers, and help at the club’s planned socialization outings with the current puppies in the club. Once they feel they have learned the ropes, they can apply for their first puppy. Most of our puppy raisers are referred to us through word of mouth as our current raisers are our best advertisers!” She added.
Guide Dogs of America allow their puppy raisers the privilege of naming their puppy. The organization assigns a letter of the alphabet for every litter of puppies and the puppy raiser can choose a name based on the litter letter. Zack Gittlen, GDA’s Outreach Coordinator, comments “Raising a puppy for us (GDA) is an extremely unique volunteer opportunity. You are essentially volunteering your time 24/7 for a year and a half. Because of that, our raisers quite obviously get attached to the puppy/dog. Turn in day can be heart-breaking, but we always reinforce that the dog has a more important job to go on to fulfill. It is when they see the final product, their puppy in harness with the graduate, that they understand the magnitude of what they did. They donated precious time of their lives, to change someone else’s for the better.”
Because training a guide dog and ultimately the person they will guide can cost as much as $50,000, some guide dog training organizations invite members of the public or organizations to name a puppy in return for a minimum donation of $5,000. The donor dog-namer/s also receives updates about the puppy’s progress throughout its training and, ultimately, a graduation photograph. It’ wonderful gestures that will help change someone’s life for the better.