Guide dog raised in Walkersville now resides in Poland

 In News & Events (Maryland) – 02/03/2009

North County Notes | Jeremy Hauck

Ferd on ledgeA guide dog for the blind, raised in Walkersville, is serving his duty to his blind “partner in life” in Warsaw, Poland, according to a press release from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Janelle Little, a student at Baltimore’s Stevenson University, helped raise Ferd, a black Labrador, from eight weeks old to 18 months old, at which point Ferd was able to become a full-fledged guide dog.

Ferd was the second guide dog that Little, along with her parents, Becky and Bill Little of Walkersville, raised, according to Linda Damato, spokeswoman for the Patterson, N.Y.-based nonprofit.

The Littles are one of several families in Frederick County who serve as “puppy raisers.”

“They’re really the heart and soul of our organization,” Damato said this week. “Without them, there would be no guide dogs.”

The Littles raised a yellow lab named Arizona before Ferd. Now the family is raising a golden lab named O’Rourke.

Puppy raisers are responsible for socializing puppies, taking them to training sessions and cultivating connections to them, Damato said. When the puppies are housebroken, fluent in basic commands and acclimatized to streets and public places, their raisers take them back to New York, where the puppies are trained for five months in guiding.

“It’s hard,” Damato said. “They wouldn’t be able to do it if they didn’t love these dogs. It’s a really big act of generosity to be able to do this.”

The dogs train for three weeks with their potential partners, and, if that goes well, the dogs become guide dogs for their partners. Dogs that fail become pets.

Puppy raisers are invited to graduation ceremonies for the dogs they helped raise. Raisers can meet their dogs’ partners at these functions, according to the nonprofit’s Web site.

To be a puppy raiser, a family has to welcome the puppy into its home and give it a lot of attention — the nonprofit’s Web site prescribes three hours of exercise and socialization per day.

The most important thing puppy raisers do for their puppies, Damato said, is developing a bond.

“It’s that trust that they build” between the puppy and its raiser, Damato said. “It’s a big motivation for a dog.”