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Why I am a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes

I was inspired to raise a puppy by a boy named Ethan. Ethan is my nephew, and he lives the life of a special needs teen. I have watched his daily struggles, both celebrating joys and shedding tears for the bumps in the road. I am amazed at his strength, courage and love of others, even when they exclude him and are cruel, as is often the way with teens. Yet, Ethan gets up every day and goes forward with a big smile on his face.

I began to think, if Ethan and others like him can face their obstacles every day, why can’t I  take on a challenge for a year?  A challenge that includes a puppy!  So I signed up to become a puppy raiser for a year.  A single year in our life as a family. A year is not long and that year might, just  might, help another person, like Ethan.   We took the classes, signed the papers and let Darren, a Guiding Eyes puppy, into our home and lives.

Darren is a yellow Lab who just turned 11 months old.  He came to us at eight weeks and 12 pounds last July.  Now he is a strong, smart, 71 pounds of love, with a dash of bull headed male occasionally thrown into our day.  “D dog” as we affectionately call him, goes to work with me, visits friends, hangs out with my teenage son, travels to visit relatives for holidays, runs on the beach and even helps with grocery shopping – where he occasionally licks fruit and vegetables, which means we have tried many new things out when I’m forced to buy “D-dog sampled items.”

Now that Darren is rounding the corner, and getting ready for formal training, everyone asks two things – “how can you give him up?” and “will you raise another puppy?”

One of those questions is easy to answer – yes, we will get another puppy!  I have found that not only do I enjoy having Darren as part of our family, but I enjoy the classes and outings of our regional puppy raiser group too. It has become part of my social scene. I look forward to regular classes, seeing the other puppies, watching their progress and sharing the experience with people from all walks of life.  Raisers are college students, retired couples, single moms and young couples. Our group is even international with raisers from England and Scotland as well as Southern Connecticut.

Without a doubt the thing I did not expect was the incredible support from Guiding Eyes.  My region manager, Maureen Hollis, has made all the difference.  Our family is a dog family, but raising a ‘puppy with a purpose’ is a different way of living with a canine.  Night or day, Maureen is always just a phone call away, and with each new phase Darren has entered, Maureen has been there.

Think of a cross between a patient coach, an informed educator and occasionally the parish priest – that’s Maureen. The priest in a confessional for the times I have to admit: yes, Darren did manage to eat some of the Rice Crispy treats when I dropped the bowl, and I promise it truly was only once I let D dog on the couch… he was just so cuddly I could not resist. And my most embarrassing phone call… Maureen what do I do when Darren grabs a mouthful of skirt on a nun’s habit and won’t let go. Yes, that really did happen!

Maureen has become my lifeline in this journey, but also a friend who can say, “your hard work is paying off.”  Just like any good friend, she gently reminds me when to step up my game and put just a bit more time in with Darren.  Maureen is a huge factor in why I would raise another puppy.

The question that is a bit harder to answer: “how will you give him up?” I tell people that my greatest accomplishment in life is being a parent. I raised my family to go out into the world and be good, kind, productive people. Just like my children, I am raising Darren to do the same thing. The only difference is Darren won’t send me a Mother’s day card.  But I know a little piece of me goes with him, big piece of him will be with all of our family.

by volunteer puppy raiser Liz Burton