by Ivone Soto-Rodriguez
About the author: Ivone Soto-Rodriguez is a recent high school graduate from West Lafayette, Indiana. She enjoys spending time with friends and family. She plans to pursue a career in elementary education after attending Ivy Tech for two years and transferring as a junior to Purdue University. Ivone wrote this profile in conjunction with Danielle Slover 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.
Danielle Slover lives in the small city of Painesville, about 30 minutes east of Cleveland Ohio. She has a son who attends Ohio State University. Danielle was a preschool teacher for twenty-two years which she absolutely loved; being a teacher helped her make a big difference in a child’s life, something that is unforgettable. Danielle is an amazing woman who is on a journey that not everyone is willing to take: volunteering as a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Even though this requires caring for a puppy and then giving it away, this has not stopped her from devoting her efforts to becoming a puppy raiser. Raising a puppy that will later help guide someone is amazing, being able to think that one person can make a significant difference in someone’s life. It takes courage, faith, and supportive family and friends to help along the way. Puppy raising has changed and enriched Danielle Slover in so many ways.
It just took one step forward for Danielle to realize puppy raising was just the right choice for her. She had been influenced by her best friend who is a puppy raiser. She gained some background knowledge about the program because she had been around her friend who was raising a puppy and would even attend the puppy classes. Once she made the life-changing choice to raise puppies herself, she knew it was that one spark in her life that she was missing.
At first, Danielle admits it was really hard. There were times when she cried a lot because she didn’t know if she was raising the right way. It took time and patience and a lot of support from her co-raisers. Although it was hard at the beginning, Danielle said, “Once I had ‘puppy fever,’ it was addicting and I couldn’t stop!” She added, “All of us raisers are a very tight-knit community of friends. We work together towards a common goal but also become amazing friends who help each other out in times of need.”
Throughout puppy raising, Danielle has had a total of seven puppies plus the one she is currently raising whose name is Filo. He is a spunky one-year-old yellow Labrador retriever. When puppy raising, it is hard to see some of the puppies go through their journey because you don’t always know if they will make it to graduation or be able to guide someone who is blind. You also don’t know where life will take them. This is something that Danielle had to experience firsthand. Her first puppy was Vector, a rambunctious yellow lab. At that time, Danielle had a young son who was involved in sports and other events that took time. She didn’t want to commit to a full year of raising a puppy. This led her to “start” a puppy which she raised for two months and then passed him over to his finishing raiser. Sadly, Vector later had a shoulder problem that needed surgery; because of this, he was medically released from the program. Danielle’s second dog was a little female black lab named Garland. She had severe allergies, was also released from the program, and was adopted by a lovely lady who is a vet specializing in allergies and dermatology. Then came Annalee, Garland’s half-sister, who had an incredible destiny. Annalee was a yellow lab, very loving and calm. She was matched with an elderly lady who was blind and also had mobility concerns. This was great for Annalee because she had accomplished her goal and was working in a unique situation with someone who really needed her.
When being asked if going through these different situations with the puppy’s changed her view on the program or if she wanted to pursue raising more, Danielle’s answer was quite honest and inspiring. There were times when she questioned herself if she was really doing the right thing, not knowing if she was really making a difference in someone’s life, moments of frustration when her puppies didn’t become guide dogs which she thought was supposed to be the main point, but this was not the only thing accomplished by the program. Danielle said, “Then I realized, while the mission of Guiding Eyes is to create guide dogs, there is a bigger mission at hand for me. It’s simple: to make the world a better place by giving love, caring for another, building friendships, and learning acceptance of my weaknesses and learning about others.” While evaluating all these thoughts and emotions, who would have ever thought that this volunteer job would make such a positive impact in Danielle’s life and in a way, help her see a part of herself that shines on when times are rough!
One last question that Danielle answered was about her favorite experience with puppy raising. It was very difficult for her to answer this question because there are so many memories from each puppy, but if she had to choose just one, it would be when she was able to see her fourth puppy, Barbara, graduate. This was the first graduation that she had attended, and there were so many emotions involved. Danielle remembers this moment so well as if it were yesterday. Danielle said, “Seeing the difference she made, wow! That had such an impact on me!” She added, “I cried. I laughed. I was proud of her. I was sad. So many emotions soared through me that day.” Danielle continued, “It was the first time I really had the opportunity to see, with my own two eyes, the difference these wonderful pups make. The moment I saw her walk into the room, she looked right at me. Somehow she knew I was there.” She reflected, “I started crying instantly, and she held my eye contact for the longest time. She was so happy to see me, but she didn’t break her position. She was so loyal to her new person but still loved me.” Hearing this from Danielle has made me see the connection between a raiser and a puppy, how it is unbreakable.
Overall, being a puppy raiser can have rough patches, but it’s not something that a raiser can’t overcome. There are great moments throughout the journey. Some include little things like staying in touch with those who have received her dogs. Danielle said, “I’ve been so blessed to receive so much communication from my pups and their graduates.” Other highlights are remarkable circumstances such as Danielle’s 5th puppy named Cinnamon who is in specialized training. Cinnamon will be doing something quite amazing and unbelievable. Cinnamon eventually will be guiding someone who is blind and deaf! Amazing, right? This is a great accomplishment for the puppy and the raiser.
Danielle mentioned several times that it is absolutely incredible what these puppies can do; they are like superheroes in the world ready to help others. Danielle has truly set an astonishing example that not only helps people in the community but also is noticed by others. It might be hard to understand how raisers can raise puppies and then give them away, but it’s not because they don’t love them. It’s because they love them so much that they are able to let them go. Thanks to the great understanding of puppy raisers, this difficult step is incredibly rewarding. Danielle said, “I’ve grown so much as a person throughout my time doing this. Each dog has taught me something new. All of them taught me that they have different paths. Some are superheroes because they guide someone who is visually impaired, some give joy to others by being a part of their family.” She concluded with contentment, “We say that inside every guide dog is the heart of a puppy raiser.”