Hometown: Essex couple raise puppy for Guiding Eyes

 In News & Events

Lynn Monty, Free Press Staff Writer – 03/25/2009

Julia and DollyThe internationally accredited nonprofit Guiding Eyes for the Blind has 10 volunteer puppy raisers in Vermont. Director of Puppy Program Support Services Linda Damato said the raisers are the heart and soul of the organization that has been training guide dogs since 1954. Right now it has 7,000 working guide dogs worldwide.

“It costs us from birth about $45,000 per dog,” Damato said. The organization’s volunteers and donors are committed to giving the gift of personal freedom, independence and dignity, she said. A yellow lab named Dolly, 11 months, was placed with puppy raiser Julia Snapp, 25, and her boyfriend Eddie Linto, 25, of Essex in June. At 18 months, Dolly will move on to receive her formal training in Patterson, N.Y. This is Snapp’s first time raising a puppy for the organization.

How did you come to be a puppy raiser?

My boyfriend and I were trying to find an organization to volunteer with and we went onto the Web site www.volunteermatch.com. They match you up with organizations. Guiding Eyes came up for us, and we volunteered with them for almost a year attending classes and working with other volunteers.

Do people have to volunteer for a year before becoming a puppy raiser?

It doesn’t have to be a year. We just wanted to make sure this was something we really wanted to do and that we were thinking straight and were really ready to take on this responsibility.

What are the high points of being a puppy raiser?

I’ve learned a lot about the needs of the blind and how being partnered with a dog can have an impact on the quality of their lives. I’m really glad that we have an opportunity to give someone else another level of independence.

How much time do you dedicate to Dolly?

I work at Fletcher Allen as part of the PRISM project implementing electronic health records. But I work full time with Dolly, too. She has come to work with me on occasion. Our favorite places to go regularly are Costco, New England Federal Credit Union and Hannafords. We also flew to Illinois together. She got to be on the plane with me at my feet. The challenging part was security. I was a little panicked, but she really impressed me. That was the first hurdle. The trip was a success. She really experienced a lot.

What skills are you working on now?

We have evaluations every quarter, and she is doing excellent. The latest thing that we had to demonstrate was “getting dressed” where a dog needs to step into their own harness. She will be ready to move on in December. It will be hard, but I’ll have the opportunity to come to her graduation and meet the blind person who she will work with.

About the photo: Julia Snapp, 25, of Essex is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Dolly, 11 months, will be ready for formal training in December.