Puppy Raiser Profile: Amy Thaler by Jordan Walters

 In News & Events

Amy Thaler’s Puppy Thrills
by Jordan Walters

About the author: Jordan Walters is a senior in high school from West Lafayette, Indiana. He enjoys sports and spending time with friends and family. He plans to major in chemical physics after attending Lincoln Memorial. Jordan wrote this profile in conjunction with Amy Thaler 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.

Amy sits on a wooden bench and smiles with pup on program Cappy, a black and tan German Shepherd in a sit at her feet. Cappy wears a blue training vest with the old Guiding Eyes logo.Amy Thaler grew up in Chevy Chase, a residential Maryland suburb just north of Washington DC, and attended Sidwell Friends School. She attributes her enjoyment of community service to the morals Sidwell Friends taught her during her time there as a first-grader to a Senior. After schooling, Amy lived all over the world and raised guide dogs in places such as Los Angeles, Park City, DC, and New Zealand. One of her favorite places to live was Los Angeles, where she resided off and on for twenty years. Ever since seeing a puppy in training in the grocery store as a college student, her deep love of dogs, and fascination with the benefits of puppy raising drove Amy to become a puppy raiser. The experience resulted in enhancing her patience, bringing her puppy to work, realizing her dream job, and meeting her puppies’ recipients.

The principal factor that led Amy to begin puppy raising was falling in love with the idea when she saw a puppy in training in a grocery store as a Junior at Ithaca College. She went straight home to call her Mom and had a long discussion about getting a puppy to raise for a guide dog school. Amy’s mom persuaded her to get a dog to keep rather than a guide dog puppy because she believed she would never be able to give the puppy up. Amy heeded her mom’s warnings, even though she later realized that raising a guide dog would have been much smarter. Puppy raisers only have their guide dog pups for about 18 months, a much shorter time span than getting a pet, which is a far better strategy for a college student. However, she promised herself that after her pet dog, Windsor, passed away she would clear her agenda and get a puppy to raise for a guide dog school. Windsor was a great dog to begin with and inspired Amy to fulfill her promise; she has raised sixteen (and counting) guide dog puppies since him!

Amy smiles while holding black and tan German shepherd puppy Maverick in her arms. Maverick turns his head to give Amy a kiss on her face.Amy was also drawn to be a puppy raiser because of her unconditional love for puppies stemming from her childhood and amazing experiences with dogs. Nothing compares to the blissful first moments of connecting with a new puppy. Amy has always loved animals, but these moments are one of the many reasons she lives for puppy raising. She decided that puppy raising would be how she made life better for others because of her love for dogs.

Seeing the impact of puppy raising drives Amy to continue. Raising a guide dog puppy is a gargantuan amount of work that only those who have done the task can truly appreciate. Besides doing the basic puppy care chores, a puppy that will grow up to be a guide dog has numerous other requirements. While most owners teach their dog basic commands, Guide dog puppies have higher etiquette expectations are taught more commands: let’s go, sit, down, stay, come, stand, over, touch, heel, close, out, get a toy, wait, get dressed, get busy just to name a few. Teaching a dog that many commands is an arduous task, so when Amy sees the appreciation of the recipient at “puppy graduation” it is a great feeling. Amy says, “It feeds my soul” when describing the emotions surrounding her hard work coming to fruition. It is a humbling experience when the puppy raisers meet their puppy’s new handler. Seeing someone so grateful for the work required to raise the puppy fills Amy’s heart. She is currently working with puppy number sixteen, a sable German shepherd named Reed, so clearly the graduation experience is a lasting one.

Amy kneels on the ground with yellow lab Watson and Watson's handler, Vicki. Watson is out of harness and sits between his two "people".One effect of being a puppy raiser was Amy learned quickly that she had to develop greater patience. Obviously, teaching a puppy requires patience because of the communication barrier. They are not yet house trained, and they get scared at night when they are away from their littermates and mother. Besides the obvious, teaching a guide dog puppy is a different beast. Most puppies are taught the basics such as sit, lay-down, come, and getting potty trained. A puppy that is going to be a guide dog gets taught far more skills. Going out in public with a puppy is a nightmare for efficient traveling, but is a requirement for puppy raising. Guide dog puppies go everywhere their human counterpart goes, so that means all eyes, whether it is wanted or not, are on the raiser. Everyone wants to pet the puppy and hear all about it which can sometimes be frustrating when Amy wants to travel without being interrupted. All this being said, after tough growing pains, the puppy grows into a very well behaved, obedient, cuddly companion.

An amazing perk of puppy raising is Amy brings her dog to work every day. Although she sometimes has to jump through a few hoops to enjoy this privilege, such as getting permission from her employers and clients, it is worth it. During her first puppy raising experience, Amy was a consultant working for Arthur Andersen. She was working on a project for Southern California Edison, and because of Amy’s passion, they both allowed her to bring her untrained puppy into work. The rest is history! Now, Amy holds more leadership positions at work, and she can make the policies concerning service dogs in the workplace. Bringing a puppy to work can be a great advantage, and is a change of pace to a normal workday. Puppies, especially well-behaved ones, greatly increase morale, promote teamwork, and decrease stress in the workplace. Decreased stress levels result in more productivity and less sickness. Service dogs are also a conversation point that encourages more interactions with coworkers and educates more people about how to properly interact with a working team. These factors have impacted Amy’s life almost everyday she has gone to work since having a guide dog puppy.

Amy stands on the sidewalk in New York City with graduate team Angel and guide dog Kilo, a black and tan German Shepherd in harness. Another outcome of Amy’s puppy raising is the realization that her dream job would be to one day be the CEO of a guide dog organization. As a child, Amy wanted to be a veterinarian because of her love for animals. She wishes that she knew about other occupations involving dogs and service dogs, such as a guide dog trainer. She now keeps her eyes open for jobs in the guide dog industry and applies as appropriate.

Lastly, being a puppy raiser allows Amy to meet the recipients of the puppies. For Amy, the most sincere moments of puppy raising are the humbling experiences of giving her puppies up to those who need them. Guiding Eyes for the Blind describes graduations as “These moving ceremonies also salute the hundreds of volunteers who raise our puppies and provide loving homes for our broods and studs – these generous and selfless individuals represent humanity at its best.” Meeting the person who receives the puppy and creating a relationship with them completes the whole adventure.

Puppy raising leaves an omnipresent impact on everyone involved in the experience. No matter how the idea is introduced, whether in a grocery store, on a flyer, or a deeper experience, the influence left on the puppy raiser’s life is incredible. In Amy’s case, she realized in retrospect that she wants to one day work for a guide dog organization, and hopefully be the CEO of one. Puppies teach life skills, but meeting the puppy’s owner at graduation teaches one of the most important life lessons: always be thankful for everything and do not take the smallest things, such as sight, for granted.

Learn more about puppy raising

MeKalea holds black German Shepherd puppy Reagan in her arms. Reagan is wearing a blue bandana and looks toward the camera with pricked ears.Alexandrea takes a selfie with black lab Twain on a beautiful day.
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