Live! Love! Laugh! Bark!
by Jillian Warren
About the author: Jillian Warren is a recent high school graduate from West Lafayette, Indiana. She enjoys hanging out with friends, playing volleyball, and any outdoor activity. She plans to pursue a career in nursing after attending Indiana University. Jillian wrote this profile in conjunction with Courtney Miller 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.
Courtney Miller is a client service representative in the deposits department for Bank of America. She lives in Depew, New York, a historic village about 20 minutes outside of Buffalo. Living so close to the city has perks of always having something to do, whether it’s going to a show or heading down by the canal for a concert. Outside of the city, she is always ready to go on a hike. Netflix is her weakness, and she is always game for a Grey’s Anatomy episode or even to re-watch the whole series. Courtney’s journey of puppy raising with Guiding Eyes for the Blind started in 2014. Since she got her first puppy in February of that year, every day has been an adventure and she has loved every minute of it. The life of Courtney Miller has been changed and enriched through puppy raising.
With all the love she has for raising puppies, how did this interest originally ignite? The journey started while Courtney was a student at Medaille College in Buffalo. Originally, Courtney intended to major in Veterinary Technology, but she decided that was not the route she was looking for. However, she was still fascinated by and interested in dogs. After glancing down the hallway of her college dorm one day and seeing another student who was raising what turned out to be her third puppy, Courtney’s wheels started turning as she became interested in the whole process. She started watching her friend go everywhere around campus with her puppy and attended class with them. That one friend and one puppy influenced her to apply to be a puppy raiser.
Meeting Olaf, the first puppy she raised, was an overwhelming experience; it felt like getting a newborn baby! It began when Courtney met up with another Guiding Eyes puppy raiser who unloaded a little nine-week-old puppy into her life. Immediately that little puppy licked her face, cried a bit, and then decided to pee on her! Courtney knew at that moment she was in for a ride! It took about a month and a half for her to adjust to having a puppy in the household. With already having two puppies and a rabbit, this gave a new puppy a lot of sights, smells, and sounds for the puppy to experience. Courtney’s approach to making Olaf as comfortable as possible including providing little introductions and giving time to explore each room. Being a first-time puppy raiser for Courtney was initially exhausting, but she was ready to face whatever challenges were on her way.
There is one command that Courtney is adamant about that the puppy learns: “Close.” She has a routine starting with sitting in a chair, calling the dog over to her, having it circle around, and having it sit facing away from her. This command is useful when the pup becomes a working guide dog. “When a puppy finally gets it down, this command always makes me tear up,” Courtney says. “To me, they are truly starting to understand that the bonding and structure we have been practicing has a purpose,” she adds. She knew going into this that establishing a bond and trust is important when raising a puppy. She has to teach them who is in charge and who they can trust and look to for guidance. According to Guiding Eyes, the connection between the raiser and the puppy is foundational for countless life lessons a guide dog must acquire. While creating trust and bonding are important, establishing a relief time routine and crate training are also critical. These topics are instilled within the puppy’s experience throughout the first months with the raiser.
Olaf eventually became a guide dog. Courtney took a couple of months off before receiving her second puppy. She felt like she did not need a break from raising itself; it was more that she needed an emotional break to let her feelings pass from the previous dog. It is hard for her to let a dog go, even though they are going to be heroes for someone else.
Courtney’s second dog, Clyde, was the one she enjoyed most. Clyde caught on to all the commands easily and was definitely a mama’s boy. Potty and crate training for him was a breeze. Courtney states, “I always joke that he came to me trained already, I just provided the love.” Just like Olaf, Clyde became a guide dog.
A year later, she got Kipling, her third puppy. Sometimes, a puppy does not end up becoming a guide dog. The reason for that could be stress, medical issues, or the puppy is not fit for the job. That was the case for Kipling. He did not end up guiding due to the lack of confidence, or in the words of a puppy raiser, he was a “soft boy.” She ultimately had the chance to adopt Kipling, and she did with open arms.
Raising puppies has given Courtney joy, adventure, and new everyday challenges. Each dog taught her that all dogs are unique. She learned that there is no set timeline on when a puppy will learn a command; each dog learns at a different rate. They taught her that you have to make training fun for yourself and the dog. If it is not fun, they will not understand it. She now understands that it is okay to mess up and be goofy because, in the end, they are still dogs. The easiest way Courtney coped with teaching all her puppies their new life skills was with patience. She understood that this was their first time learning new tricks, commands, and a new lifestyle, so that helped her through the process. Courtney is currently on a break from raising a puppy, but once her life is stable (home, job, etc.), she plans on applying what she has learned to try to make the next dogs she raises even more successful.
Courtney is planning on raising puppies for the rest of her life. It is no secret about how challenging and time-consuming puppy raising is, but it is something that gives her enjoyment. “In our hands a year, in our hearts a lifetime.” That is a phrase lived by her and any other puppy raiser who has opened their home and hearts to raise these life-changing hero’s. What Guiding Eyes and Courtney do voluntarily have a lasting impact on people with visual disabilities. The imprint of puppy raising goes beyond her. From that one look down the hallway in college, Courtney was given a new passion in life. Courtney’s story demonstrates that with patience and love, anyone can become a puppy raiser.