The Journey of a Puppy Person
by Bryan Romero Hernandez
About the author: Bryan Romero Hernandez is a recent high school graduate from Indiana. He enjoys many things including walking his awesome dog rocky! He plans to pursue a career in electronics, technology, or engineering after College. Bryan wrote this profile in conjunction with Chris Ponti 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.
Most people do a job because they expect to get money from it and be paid fairly. They anticipate payment because they didn’t volunteer to do it. They do their job for money, not to give back to someone or the community. For countless people, volunteer work is simply a good deed that might stick with them as memorable or maybe giving something back to the community. Yet, volunteering to be a puppy sitter, home socializer, or puppy raiser is not for self-investment; it’s for someone who requires a partner to guide them. Chris Ponti is not only a caregiver but has contributed and sacrificed for people who are blind or visually impaired. Puppies are an important part of Chris Ponti’s life story.
Chris’s biographical information reveals interesting details about her life. She is 62 years old this year, but on certain crazier days, she says she sometimes feels that she is 162 years old! She lives in the Hudson Valley in New York. She has a pretty open schedule because she is retired. She has deep compassion and love for dogs. Because of arthritis in her back and hips, her least favorite movement is bending down, which happens a lot when raising a puppy. She can be a bit of a control freak, so she has expectations of how things should be done. If these expectations do not meet her expectations, she will let you know. Yet, don’t let that fool you, she is a caring and loving person. Chris has a special someone that she cares about in addition to the dogs she takes care of. Her knight in shining armor is her husband. She listed that one of his best qualities is dealing with the ridiculous and crazy things that happen in the house, slowly surrendering to Chris’s puppy obsession. That is just how her normal quirky life is, and he doesn’t hold it against her!
Chris traces the beginning of her puppy raising journey to when she rescued Brooklyn, who is 11 years old now, as a puppy. The vet was sponsoring pup classes and Chris became friends with the woman running the class. During two years of learning, she learned more than a simple command to give to dogs. She started to learn about animal behavior. She was hooked! She loved it so much that she read countless books on the subject and on how to make Brooklyn a therapy dog. Over subsequent years, she rescued another dog, a Golden Retriever named Shiloh. This event led her to her current trainer and dog behaviorist and, to date, she has learned more advanced training methods and has gained more in-depth knowledge of animal body language and behavior which subsequently helped her in raising her Guiding Eyes puppy.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind trains dogs to become guides to help enrich the lives of people who are visually impaired. The puppy raiser provides nurturing for the pup and helps it learn to be obedient. Chris’s open schedule allows her more time to spend with the puppy. The training phase of the puppy starts in the hands of puppy raisers. It centers on providing skills for the puppy to have before they are handed back to the program at around a year-and-a-half of age for formal evaluation and training. The guide dog has to adapt to most environments, even if it seems not necessary. Chris gave an example that some people might think there was no point in training the dog to be in a movie theater because someone who is blind would not attend a movie, but that is not true. A guide dog has to be ready for anything and adjust accordingly. The puppy raisers must prepare dogs to enter wherever the blind person may go. Training should be done in every possible environment because the owner may encounter unexpected environments.
On April 30, 2019, Chris got her first puppy to raise, a beautiful black lab named Orleans. Before that, however, Chris started volunteering with Guiding Eyes by being both a puppy-sitter and then a home socializer. These two roles are wonderful options for someone who isn’t in a position to raise a puppy for a year but who still wants to help in a meaningful way. This also helped Chris know the Guiding Eyes training methods and protocol. Once Orleans arrived, Chris helped her adjust to home life with two dogs and eight cats. She worked on house manners with Orleans, teaching her how to say Please for everything by sitting. Orleans was taught to stay off the furniture and not to pick things up off the floor. Chris taught her to walk nicely on a leash. There are all the usual puppy training things. Chris had to take the training further, in accordance with the Guiding Eyes puppy program. She enjoyed every moment (well, almost) of working with Orleans.
Orleans made great progress in her skills. She and Chris visited many different places so that the puppy would be exposed to various sights, sounds, smells, and movements. Orleans was confident in some situations and hesitant in others, but Chris worked to make her feel safe in every situation.
Ultimately, Orleans was rehomed so that others could help her overcome the hesitations. Chris understood that the goal was for Orleans to become a guide dog and that it might mean some extra help, but she was sad not to have finished the raising. Orleans was rehomed with a more experienced puppy raiser who had raised many pups successfully for the program. To date, Orleans appears to be doing well and is working on a few challenges with help from her finisher raiser. Eventually, she will take her IFT (In-For-Training test) which will determine her future. Chris will be there to cheer her on.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides dogs to people who are visually impaired. They give them a trustworthy partner to be with them through thick and thin. It will make anyone delighted to see a puppy in training become an independent dog. It will leave an effect on the view of life and memories that will not be forgotten. Emotions that you will treasure for the rest of your life: sadness, happiness, pride, and surprise. The effect that the puppy raiser leaves the dog will be that they can be obedient, confident, and ready for their next stage – harness training and working with different trainers and becoming a guide dog. The effect of the dog’s health also matters. It will determine whether or not they will be released from the program or continue their training.
Volunteer work may sometimes be easy to do, but getting attached and having to let go is something not for the faint of heart. The work that goes into being a puppy raiser is something you don’t get paid for with money but paid for in emotions and memories. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a program to help others, not one based upon self-interests. Volunteering for this program will leave you full of pride knowing you’re helping a great cause. Chris Ponti is just one of the many puppy raisers who has contributed to a bigger cause that helps those who are blind or visually impaired. It’s a cause that provides those who need an extra pair of eyes and a furry, loving partner. Will Chris raise another puppy? At this time, she is unsure. She recently adopted Finn, originally named Louis, who was released from the Guiding Eyes program, so she has her hands full. Perhaps, she says, when Finn is older, she will consider raising another pup. In the meantime, she will continue to puppy-sit when needed which is such an important way volunteers can contribute. Nothing has stopped her love for dogs and her joy of being involved in puppy raising.