When my husband and I moved across the country from California to Delaware for his postdoc, I needed something to anchor me. I was also looking for a volunteer activity we could do together.
Serendipitously, I read three articles about raising guide dog puppies in local publications. I contacted the local chapter of Guiding Eyes for the Blind and started attending puppy-raising class to see if it would be a fit.
One look at the Labrador puppies was all it took to get me to commit to puppy-raising. After completing our training, my husband and I brought home Fairfax, an eight-week-old black Lab, and began teaching him manners, obedience skills, and sociability.
We had the support of experienced Delaware puppy raisers who provided us with a crate and other essentials, as well as counseling and training tips. A region manager from Guiding Eyes for the Blind attended our biweekly puppy classes and was available by phone anytime we needed her.
Based in New York with raisers up and down the East Coast, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a nationally accredited non-profit organization that provides an independent lifestyle for the blind and visually impaired. The organization uses relationship-based training methods to keep the experience positive for the puppy raisers and dogs. Many people raise dog after dog for Guiding Eyes.
We had Fairfax for a year before he returned to Guiding Eyes for training. Then we immediately brought home AJ, a slightly older black Lab puppy who helped fill up the space Fairfax held in our lives. AJ gave me renewed confidence in my ability to prepare a dog for one of the most important jobs he can have.
When AJ went to training, we got Tchita, a five-month-old female Lab. And after each of the three dogs we raised attended five months of training at Guiding Eyes, they became working guide dogs.
As hard as it was to send each dog back to Guiding Eyes for training, the excitement of hearing about their progress in guide dog training quickly replaced those feelings. And each of the three times we learned that one of our dogs had been placed with a blind person was truly extraordinary. We got to talk on the phone with each of our dogs’ new owners and are still in touch with all three of them, regularly hearing wonderful stories about the impact the dogs make on their lives. The dogs could not be happier, of course.
Fairfax gets to go to work every day with his owner and receives his own invitation to the weekly team meetings. AJ goes camping with his owner every summer. Tchita gets to play on the beach in Halifax, and in every photo her owner sends us, she’s cuddling with someone.
Guide dogs are extraordinary, bred for and capable of bringing independence, joy, peace and love to others. They deeply impact their owners’ lives, but also the lives of their puppy raisers and the entire community in which those raisers live. Our dogs have brought awareness of blindness and disabilities to our friends and family members.
Studies show that people who volunteer and who have pets are happier and more satisfied with their lives. Guide dog puppy raisers fall into both of those categories, and the Guiding Eyes puppy raisers and staff members I know radiate generosity, warmth and happiness.
I will always be grateful for my experience raising puppies for Guiding Eyes. I now live outside their puppy-raising territory, but I have a daily reminder of my wonderful experience – my dog, Dylan, a Guiding Eyes puppy who was released for adoption at eight weeks. Through Dylan, I get to maintain my connection to Guiding Eyes. I will always consider myself a devoted part of their family.