The Journey of a Raiser
by Nikki Hibler
About the author: Nikki Hibler is a senior in high school from West Lafayette, Indiana. She enjoys playing lacrosse. She plans to pursue a career in biomedical engineering after attending college in the Midwest. Nikki wrote this profile in conjunction with Julia Hofman 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.
Julia Hofman is a twenty-three-year-old puppy raiser in Cleveland, Ohio. Puppy raising is when someone has the responsibility of raising a future guide dog. They raise the puppy for roughly a year and then send the dog to a training program to finalize the guide dog process. Julia works with Guiding Eyes which is a guide dog program specifically for the blind. She is currently raising her second puppy, Risa. Puppy raising is a strenuous job that can have a major impact on someone’s life. It takes a lot of time, effort, and love to raise a puppy and this is Julia’s puppy raising story. Julia did not technically grow up with a dog in her household, however, she did help out with her grandparent’s dog, Brooke. Brooke is where her journey began. Julia loved the fact that Brooke was always by her side. Julia considered Brooke her own dog. Even though Julia was very young, it is what sparked her love for animals and specifically dogs. Julia explains it as, “She was a piece of my puzzle in working with dogs”. As Julia grew older, her love for dogs continued but she wasn’t able to get one of her own. It wasn’t practical to get a dog at that time in her life. Because of her exposure to a dog at such a young age, she understood the positive effects a dog could have on a person which was the first step in her puppy raising journey.
Although Brooke had a lasting effect on Julia’s path to Guiding Eyes, a puppy raiser who was already working with Guiding Eyes is who directly led her to the program. “Our raisers are responsible for nurturing a puppy to prepare it for guide dog training. Raisers care for our young dogs and equip them with the skills they need to take on a job that will change someone’s life,” explains the Guiding Eyes website on puppy raising. Discovering puppy raising can be a different experience for each person. Julia was lucky that she actually met a current puppy raiser. She would regularly help the puppy raiser train and take care of her puppy, Mia. This allowed the puppy raiser to work as well as give Mia more playtime. Julia fell in love with Mia and how eager she was to learn. Julia’s favorite memory of Mia is showing her mom how well behaved Mia was. The idea of raising a puppy for the first year of its life, then sending the puppy to assist someone in need, fascinated her. Julia could not commit to a dog for its entire life span, but through Guiding Eyes, she would be able to work with the animals she loves over a controlled timeline. This is an ideal situation because it would be fair to the dog as well as allow Julia to experience the eternal love of a dog. With this program, Guiding Eyes has provided the chance for others in Julia’s same situation to have a dog.
Becoming a puppy raiser had significant effects on Julia’s everyday responsibilities. Before becoming a puppy raiser, she would wake up right before she had to leave for work. Now she has to take Risa, her current puppy, for a walk and make sure she’s fed. Julia’s priorities changed and it wasn’t easy. Instead of that fifteen minutes of extra sleep, she has to care for Risa and ensure she will be okay for the time that Julia is away. The fact that she is raising the puppy for Guiding Eyes also changes the level of responsibility. Guiding Eyes will not deploy a puppy without the proper training and etiquette. The dog must be potty trained and well behaved in order to become a guide dog. This puts even more responsibility on her shoulders. However, this responsibility guarantees effective and trained guide dogs who are ready to work for Guiding Eyes.
Puppy raising dramatically affected Julia’s job opportunities and choices. It dictated where she worked, the industry she worked in, and how many jobs she had. Julia started working at PetSmart as a trainer because of the animal interactions. At this point, Julia had two jobs but needed to quit one of them to take care of the puppy. She decided to keep her job at PetSmart. If Julia didn’t become a puppy raiser, her job and career choices would be different from what they are now. Nonetheless, puppy raising requires sacrifices, time, and money.
Working with puppies and raising them has really proved to Julia that she has a gift with animals. She started training dogs at PetSmart before she even started puppy raising. The people who train animals are usually animal lovers or people interested in the animal industry. Julia explains “I have noticed that I have a gift for communicating with dogs. I always was told this, but puppy raising has really shown me this.” Therefore, through the process of puppy raising, she proved to herself and others that she has a special connection with the dogs. Through Guiding Eyes, she is able to put those skills to use.
Puppy raising can have an impact on mental health as well. Julia noticed that she has acquired a positive outlook on life. Her levels of stress have also been much lower. Although she has much more responsibility and things to do, she feels less stressed on a day to day basis. Dogs seem to bring out the best in Julia. It can be a hard adjustment, but Julia has found a passion for puppy raising in under two years and it has undoubtedly made her into a happier person.
In conclusion, Julia Hofman was not always on the path of becoming a puppy raiser. With her hard work and enthusiasm concerning dogs, she is able to manage her busy life while providing support for the puppy. Raising a different puppy every year is a difficult task but it would not be possible without Guiding Eyes. Julia’s story demonstrates that just because someone did not have a dog growing up, does not mean they can’t become a puppy raiser. This kind of commitment is not easy, but there is nothing as spectacular as watching a puppy grow into a hard-working part of society. Therefore, it is possible that with enough dedication and involvement, anyone can become a puppy raiser.