Area Residents Become ‘Parents’ to Puppies in Training

 In News & Events

Amanda Galloway, special correspondent – 07/08/2009

Seth and RhondaEach year, over one thousand volunteers up and down the east coast of the United States work to bring comfort and convenience to the blind and visually impaired.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization based in New York State, trains and breeds guide dogs for use throughout the east coast, from Maine to North Carolina. Each year, young puppies are brought into more than 550 homes, where they are socialized and taught basic obedience skills. From there, more than 160 new guide dogs are selected to aid the visually impaired.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind finds a large support base in Virginia, especially in Richmond where 11 new puppies are currently being trained. These puppies range from a 12 week old that is just beginning training, to an 18 month old who will soon be sent to New York for harness training. The majority of the puppies are Labrador Retrievers, but Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are also used.

Most puppy raisers will keep their animals for 18 months. During this time, raisers act as the puppy’s “parents,” socializing them in a variety of environments, teaching basic obedience skills, and attending training classes. Once the 18 months ends, puppies are sent to more specialized classes.

David Paxton, 17, has been an avid member of the Richmond Region of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Paxton, a puppy raiser, who has published his experiences in the Guiding Eyes newsletter, explained that raising a guide dog is similar to raising “a small, hairy child.” “The responsibility of raising a guide dog puppy began two months prior to his arrival. I had to attend pre-placement classes, which developed my ‘parenting’ skills,” he said. “From the outset, I felt like a parent might, getting up in the middle of the night when I heard him crying.”

Paxton explained that the number of hours he spent playing with and teaching his puppy, Jeeper, were well worth his time and the heartache of letting Jeeper go when he was sent to New York to begin his career.

“Reading his first report card, from evaluations and subsequent training reports from New York, gave me the same sense of pride that every parent feels,” Paxton explained. “From the outset, I knew that he would leave me. However, when it came to ‘The Day’, it was still very difficult. After 18 months of ‘parenthood’ and developing a truly special bond, I sent him off to ‘college’, knowing the only other time I would see him would be at his graduation. And then he would belong to someone who really needed him.”

Since the Richmond Region of Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been established, 12 dogs have passed the rigorous training to become certified guide dogs, four have become breeding dogs, and 18 have moved into other fields, including working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and children with autism.

If you are interested in becoming a puppy raiser for the Richmond Region of Guiding Eyes, visit http://www.Guiding