End in Sight for Trained Puppies
JUDITH WHITE – 05/01/2009
WILTON — Not everyone can do it — take in an adorable puppy, lavish it with love, spend countless hours in housetraining (translate that as cleaning up after accidents), grooming and repetitive training activities, and then part with the resulting well-mannered young dog just 14 or 15 months later.
Still, Wilton residents Barbara Martin and Barbara Pazul say that really anyone can do it, as they do, or perhaps help in some other way.
Martin and her husband, Ken, became volunteer puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind just last September, taking in a four-month-old yellow lab named Kurt.
Pazul and her husband, Gary, are currently raising their sixth Guiding Eyes dog, Carlton, now a one-year-old “I’ve painted all their names on the food bowl, beginning with Atwood in 1998,” says Pazul. “Our own 13-year-old dalmation, Measle, is there, too, and the names of Guiding Eyes dogs that we’ve puppy-sat.”
In Guiding Eyes lingo, a puppy-sitter takes in a dog being raised by someone else in the region, either because the raiser is away, or on routine required socialization visits.
Like kids being sent to Grandma’s house or going to their first summer camp, Guiding Eyes dogs have to take these puppy-steps toward confidence and maturity, because in the not-too-distant future they’ll leave their raisers and enter the tough training world that will turn them into invaluable guide dogs for the blind.
“Yes, it’s hard to part with a dog you love, but it’s kind of like sending your kid off to college: bittersweet,” says Pazul. “And then if you get invited to their graduation, it’s really cool.”
Both women consider themselves the primary puppy raiser in their family, although both husbands attend puppy groups. Also, Pazul’s children have participated, and one son was the primary puppy raiser for one of their dogs.
Martin knows the time will come when she and Ken have to part with Kurt, but says that talking with blind people about their lives with their dogs has made it easier to accept.
Also, she says twice-monthly “puppy groups” reinforce the commitment and the rewarding contributions of the puppy raisers.
Attendance at puppy group is required for the volunteers, organized and led by a regional volunteer coordinator.
A 50-year-old not-for-profit organization, Guiding Eyes for the Blind works to enrich the lives of the blind and visually impaired by providing them with superbly bred and expertly trained guide dogs.
While the Martins and the Pazuls, who met in puppy class, are raising Labrador retrievers, the organization uses other breeds as well.
All are selectively bred to enhance the traits required for their future work.
The dogs the Pazuls have raised have come to them quite young, at eight to 10 weeks old, requiring lots of attention.
“We’ve gotten into a pattern of taking a puppy toward the end of the school year, so my children and I can spend more time with it,” says Pazul, who works at the Oliver W. Winch Middle School.
Then the family works with the dog for about a year-and-a-half.
“We take the winter off, because that’s when we have the least time to be home with a puppy,” she explains, “but there are lots of people who do this in their own way.
She said there are “co-raisers,” and students who are primary raisers, and puppy sitters who take in dogs for just a few days.
Both Pazul and Martin stress the challenges of working to help their puppy learn proper behaviors, and particularly “people greeting skills.”
Kurt has not yet earned his “cape,” the blue doggie-coat identifying him as Guide Dog in Pre-Training.”
“It’s one thing to have him pay attention and do things correctly in my backyard, but it’s another when I take him downtown,” Martin confesses about Kurt’s behavior.
“But we get help and suggestions in puppy class,” she says.
“We use positive reinforcement, and we’re patient.”
The Northern New York Region, coordinator for Guiding Eyes for the Blind is Cheryl Lawyer Palma. Contact her at 312-6862.
About the photo: From left, Walter Kosinski with dog Susan, Barb Paszul with Carlton and Barbara Martin with Kurt. ERICA MILLER/WG Life