Live. Laugh. Bark.
by Nakiah Bentley
About the author: Kiah Bentley is a senior in high school from West Lafayette, Indiana. She enjoys theater/acting, her cat Liam, summer nights with friends, and arts & crafts. She plans to pursue a career in nursing after attending IUPUI. Kiah wrote this profile in conjunction with Abby Davenport as an assignment in a senior composition class taught by Kathy Nimmer, a Guiding Eyes graduate who is partnered with Nacho, a yellow lab guide dog.
In 2016, the National Federation of the Blind stated that 7,675,600 people were reported to have a vision disability. One way to help a blind person navigate his surroundings is to have a guide dog. A guide dog is a dog specially trained to guide a visually impaired person. Not all dogs are cut out to be guide dogs. They are specially bred and trained using breeds ranging from labrador retrievers to German shepherds. Abby Davenport, a small animal veterinarian from northeastern Pennsylvania, is a part of this special process. She is a puppy raiser through Guiding Eyes for the Blind. A puppy raiser is someone who provides specially-bred puppies a safe home, takes them to obedience classes, serves them a well-balanced diet, provides socialization and gives lots of love. Abby started college in New York at Elmira College, then continued her education and recently graduated from Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Through her few short years as a puppy raiser, she has learned to balance work and life and she gets the best of both worlds caring for animals that in return care for humans.
Thanks to Guiding Eyes for the Blind having an established program at Cornell University, Abby was easily able to become a raiser. When she was younger, she had heard of puppy raising and thought it would be a fun way to volunteer, but she did not look more into the subject. When she started her schooling at Cornell, which already had a Guiding Eyes program, it was like a set of wide-open french doors to start her puppy raising career. In four years she has raised two puppies, Fanta and Fergus, and is on her third, Fitz. Yes, all three puppies names start with an F, but that is not because Abby’s favorite letter is F. Every litter of puppies is assigned a letter and the puppy’s name must start with that letter. Guiding Eyes cycles through the alphabet, excluding a few letters, and by chance, Abby has gotten the same letter three times.
From the young age of three, Abby knew she wanted to be a vet. She had and continues to have a strong love and passion for animals and science. Growing up she had two labrador retrievers so she was comfortable and experienced with animals before going into vet school. Abby not only has a love for animals but also a love for humans; she even considered human medicine but decided that animals were the right way to go. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is able to satisfy Abby’s love for both humans and animals. Abby said, “Giving the puppies up at the end is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but seeing how greatly they’ve improved the lives of individuals who need them more makes it easier”. Guiding Eyes was founded for the pure reason of breeding, raising, training and handing off guide dogs who in return help humans. Dogs have a positive effect of making their owners feel more confident and secure. Blind people with guide dogs are better equipped to conquer the world with their trusted furry friends.
An unexpected lesson that Abby has learned is a good work-life balance. Abby is an obvious hard worker with a big heart. Becoming a vet can be challenging, time-consuming and stressful. It is a profession that demands a lot from a person, especially from someone still in school. College students can get pulled into the labyrinth of overwhelming study hours, working that extra shift to pay rent and trying to maintain a healthy social life, all of which cause stress. Abby’s first puppy, Fanta, saved her from a gargantuan amount of stress. After welcoming Fanta as the puppy she needed to raise well, Abby realized that studying is important, but there is more to life than academics. Raising Fanta led Abby to start taking more personal time, such as taking a walk or napping with her puppy to distract her from the massive requests of vet school.
Volunteer puppy raising is an incredible way to help individuals with vision disabilities live more independent lives. Each hour spent caring for a puppy is vital to its development as a future guide dog. The impact of puppy raising extends further than just the handler. Abby Davenport would not be the person she is today without it. Thanks to Cornell formally introducing puppy raising to her, she started a new way of life. Puppy raising inadvertently gave her a new passion for life. It allowed Abby to create new relationships and strengthen her abilities as a vet. It takes a selfless person to puppy raise because it is hard to give the puppies back, but the end result of gifting someone else independence and security means more to Abby than keeping the puppy.