A Sacrifice Given with Eyes Wide Open
by Mark Kelley
About the author: Mark Kelley is a recent high school graduate from West Lafayette, Indiana. He enjoys band, track, and soccer. He plans to pursue a career in Medicinal Chemistry after attending Purdue University and graduate school. Mark wrote this profile in conjunction with Dawn Harvey 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.
There are always unacknowledged members of society whose work is vital to the lives of others. Many go unseen, and members of society have no idea how valuable the subtle actions of these heroes are. One particular type of public servant is the puppy raiser. Unheard of to most, these random citizens of society agree to help raise dogs for public service, particularly to be guide dogs for those who are blind. These dogs save lives every day, and they cannot learn these vital life skills without the sacrifice of puppy raisers. Dawn Harvey is one of these public servants who has sacrificed for the benefit of people she doesn’t know. Dawn has raised two dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is currently raising her third. Puppy raising has both impacted and been impacted by Dawn.
Dawn has had prior roles in impacting the community. Dawn is a Special Education Supervisor for the schools of Loudoun County, Virginia. Before becoming the supervisor, she was a teacher of students with visual impairments/orientation and mobility instructor Dawn’s motivation for puppy raising started from her firsthand experience of guide dogs help to support the daily functions of students with visual impairments. She witnessed the daily struggles of blind students, as well as the effects that guide dogs have on them. Dawn loves both dogs and helping people. Those who are blind need dogs, and in turn, dogs need raisers. As Dawn stated: My love for dogs paired with the ability to try to help produce a guide is the motivation behind deciding to go ahead and do.” For fifteen years, Dawn looked for a good opportunity to try puppy raising. It wasn’t until 2017 when her daughter began to attend a community college, that she was given the chance. Her daughter had asked about puppy raising, and Dawn decided that she would apply to become a puppy raiser.
Before becoming a puppy raiser, Dawn had to take a Pre-Placement class in order to learn more about the puppy raising process, including the skills that puppy raisers must teach, and the philosophies of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. After completing the class, Dawn had to practice taking care of a puppy, as required by the school. Dawn had to puppy sit while some puppy raisers went on vacation. After becoming familiar with what her responsibilities would be, Dawn prepared her house to host a dog. On June 4, 2017, Dawn began to raise her first puppy, Barry.
Barry is a smart yellow Labrador retriever who loves to spend time with people, and, consequently, people love to spend time with him. He is playful, yet gentle, and knows how to interact with people. Dawn would later get her second dog, Banner, an incredibly confident and intelligent black lab, who loves everyone. Banner often chooses who he is with at a given moment, but shows no preference to any one person. Dawn is currently raising her third dog, Colonel, an affectionate yellow lab. Colonel is a natural leader, who asks for what he wants, but accepts what he gets. All three dogs are intelligent, quick learning dogs who love being around people the exact kind of dog needed for public service.
Dawn’s strategy for teaching these puppies has evolved over the years of puppy raising. With Barry, she was very concerned about the perfection of the puppy raising process. As she became more accustomed to raising these puppies, she began to feel more relaxed. When a dog made a mistake, she knew that it would be okay. The longer she raises these dogs, the more skilled she becomes in being able to effectively teach her dogs.
Dawn teaches her puppies basic dog skills, including sitting, staying, heeling, and greetings. Dawn also takes her dogs everywhere that she goes. Guide dogs are life supports for people who are visually impaired, and, thus, have to be ready to be in public places without getting distracted. Dawn takes them to the store, to work, to the park, etc. Her puppies are with her almost all the time. Every other week, Dawn also takes her pup to a class where a Regional Manager teaches her and other raisers new skills to work on with the dogs. Dawn also meets up with other puppy raisers to give their dogs a chance to practice certain social skills together. Dawn often gets comments from random people. People are curious, as many have not heard of puppy raising. When seeing a dog with a Guiding Eyes vest, some people are confused. Dawn clearly is not blind, but she has a dog with a vest. People comment, ask questions, and learn about how Dawn is helping those who are blind.
Dawn has grown in relationships with her dogs very quickly. She has found that she has developed a different perspective while raising puppies in such a short period. She has to enjoy every moment because she does not have very much time with the dogs. Dawn has found that it is easier to enjoy the puppies because she knows that each moment matters. When the puppies make a mess, she laughs instead of becoming embittered. Dawn’s connection with her Guiding Eyes dogs is different from her relationships with pets: “I would say the relationships with the pups I have raised are stronger than the ones I have raised as pets because we develop such a strong connection and spend so much time together.” Others who raise puppies have found similar differences in the intensity of the connection. Dawn’s relationship with her dogs has even allowed her to strengthen her relationships with other people. But, the hardest part about the relationship is the inevitable ending.
As the puppy raising process only takes around a year, these relationships are short. A bond that has been strengthened for months is suddenly altered. The puppy goes in for a test, known as an IFT, where the puppy is evaluated. The IFT determines if the dog is both physically and mentally fit for harness training (the next step of becoming a guide dog). After IFT, the dogs are then evaluated medically to ensure there are not any underlying medical issues. Should any become apparent then or during harness training, the dogs can be considered for other careers like detection or other types of service. If the dog is to be released from service completely the puppy raisers are given the first option of adopting the dog. This has been the case for Dawn’s first two dogs, both released for medical issues after being trained for up to five months. Thus, currently, Dawn has all three of her dogs. Even though she was happy when she got to adopt her first two puppies, it is still a bittersweet reality for puppy raisers when all of the work to produce a potential guide dog seems to disappear.
It is because of this bittersweet reality that Dawn chose Guiding Eyes. One of the distinctions of this school is that graduates receive the raisers’ contact info and are encouraged to be in touch. More often than not, graduates and raisers develop a friendship that can last a lifetime. Guiding Eyes is willing to ask the graduate if the puppy raisers can stay in contact. The graduate does not necessarily have to say yes, but for Dawn having a chance to stay in contact with her puppies is better than no chance at all.
Although Dawn has had the chance to keep her first two puppies as she continues preparing Colonel, she also raises all of the puppies for a reason. Dawn does not raise the puppies in order to keep them. She raises them to serve others. Although her work has not yet produced a guide dog, Barry is currently a therapy dog, and Banner is being trained to become a therapy dog. Dawn still loves serving others, and this is a way that she can impact other people. But puppy raising goes both ways. Dawn impacts people with puppy raising and is impacted by puppy raising. According to Dawn, “the most impactful aspect of puppy raising is the incredible connection that you have with the puppy.” Yes, for Dawn the part that affects her the most is still the relationship that she has with the puppy, even though she knows that she must sacrifice the puppy in the end. Guiding Eyes dogs are trained to bond quickly with people, and the connections that the dogs make can affect the way people live outside of their puppy person relationship. Dawn noted, “This connection to the pups I have raised has changed the way I view my relationships with other people and helped me understand the true meaning of unconditional love.”
Not only has puppy raising strengthened Dawn’s human relationships, but it has also changed her social and emotional capacities. She has grown in her ability to enjoy the moment. With such a short period of time together, Dawn has been forced to enjoy the time that she has with the puppies. This realization has not only impacted the way she interacts with her pets, but it has spilled over into other aspects of life. “Before puppy raising I had multiple things going on, helped everyone that asked, devoted many hours to making things perfect, and didn’t take the time to spend with those I love and wholeheartedly enjoy those moments. Now I definitely do and look to create more of those moments than anything else.” Dawn is willing to share this life of love with others. Whenever others come to her with interest in becoming a puppy raiser, she has several key points to share with them. As wonderful and rewarding as puppy raising can be, she also wants people to do more research than just listening to her story. Puppy raising has a lot of responsibilities and getting a Guiding Eyes puppy changes almost every aspect of daily life. Having an understanding of this, prior to raising, results in success as a raiser.
Puppy raising is certainly not for everyone, but Dawn is clearly impacted by this public service. She impacts her community as her dogs continually influence the way she lives. Raising a puppy takes dedication and a heart that is willing to sacrifice for the benefit of those who are blind. Currently, Dawn is preparing for the painful yet exciting day when Colonel takes his IFT. It is the day for which she and Colonel have been training, both physically and mentally. It is the day puppy raisers always know is coming and the day that can change everything.