Raising Puppies To Be Guides

 In News & Events

VALERIE TUCKER – Kennebec Journal – 07/08/2009

Carol with CashPHILLIPS — Carol Rogers is a foster mother for some cuddly canines, and she has to be tough, even when she wants to laugh out loud.

As one of Maine’s volunteer puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she is training Cash, a five-month-old, energetic Labrador retriever.

“He’s such a great dog, but he’s easily distracted by everything,” she said. “He’s learning good manners, and he’s growing up fast.”

Rogers, who raised Cash’s mother also, said his personality is very different from her last puppy, Ginny, a yellow Labrador retriever who came to live with her nearly two yeas ago. After 18 months, Ginny left Rogers for ‘guide-dog college,’ which provides more rigorous training at the organization’s New York site. Ginny was matched with Cathy Milone, who had returned for her ninth guide dog. Milone recently retired from a 40-year career with the U. S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Milone’s guide dogs have been with her through her working life, and now Ginny will be her retirement companion.

“My dogs have always bolstered my everyday strength and confidence,” Milone said.

After Ginny left, Rogers took two dogs for extra training, and she brought Cash home in March. She works for the Mt. Blue Water District, and she and her dogs have been a familiar sight in the quiet town.

“I’ve been doing this for 9 years, and it’s always fun and always a challenge,” she said.

With good-natured cooperation from her husband, Rick, she has raised 12 dogs for the nonprofit guide-dog school. Rogers introduces her dogs to traffic, grocery stores, schools and other experiences, and she teaches basic obedience and good manners.

Although the trainers are not paid, Rogers said, Dr. Nancy Kessler, at Clearwater Veterinary Hospital in Industry, has been extremely generous.

“My dogs have to have all of the same shots and visits to the vet that any pet would, but Dr. Kessler doesn’t charge me for these guide-dog puppies,” Rogers said.

She and other Maine volunteers and dogs meet twice a month with area coordinators Pat Webber in Belfast or Nina Scribner in Yarmouth for training and socializing. Webber said she’s continually inspired by the positive effect a single dog can have on so many lives.

“We teach basic obedience, good manners and qualities essential for a guide dog,” Webber said. “Dogs have to be happy with their owners, because it’s really a job for them.”

Guiding Eyes breeds and trains several hundred dogs through puppy parents such as Rogers, according to Lisa Deutsch, the organization’s vice president for marketing and development. The canines are matched according to the personalities and needs of the puppy raisers, as well as the dog’s new owner.

About three-quarters of the owners who are blind or have low vision also are unemployed and don’t have the extra money to pay for food and a dog’s veterinarian’s visits. The organization finds ways to provide assistance.

“There is no cost to the person we match with a dog,” Deutsch said. “Training, travel, equipment, room and board, and follow-up services are also provided free of charge.”

Although volunteer trainers reduce outlay for the first two years, each dog’s life span can cost the organization about $45,000, so they depend heavily on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and service groups.

Dogs who retire or become physically unable to stay with the owner can return to the first trainer or to another home. Dogs who don’t pass the strict guide-dog assessment can be of service for the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, state and local police departments and as therapy dogs.

The organization also offers a program to assist autistic children. The program needs more puppy raisers, but the time and energy commitment places special demands on the foster parents.

“Guiding Eyes is always looking for puppy raisers,” Rogers said.

Staff photo by David Leaming NICE TO MEET YOU: Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog raiser Carol Rogers introduces Cash to pedestrian Richard Dertsera in downtown Phillips recently. The socialization training is part of a year-long relationship Rogers has with the dog that will one day assist blind people.

For more information, visit www.volunteer.guidingeyes.org or call 866-GEB-LABS. Contact Pat Webber at 338-5520 or pweb@gwi.net for more information about the Maine volunteer program.