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Yfke’s Puppy Raising Journey

Yfke kneels on the stone path with yellow lab pup on program Lancelot in a sit by her side. To her right, Guiding Eyes graduate Sam also kneels on the ground with yellow lab guide dog Stan in a sit by his side. Stan wears his leather guide dog harness, while Lancelot has his blue training vest on.

Hello, puppy raising community! My name is Yfke. I’ve been a home socializer since 2014 and a puppy raiser for the past five years, beginning in my senior year of high school. I started puppy raising because I wanted to be more involved in training a guide dog. My first puppy, Dax, got his start along with my other two puppies with the incredible Michelle Russell, a fellow raiser in the New Hampshire region. Dax went on to become a stud for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and sired six litters, five for Guiding Eyes and one for another organization.

After getting permission from my university to raise another puppy (because we all know you can’t raise just one), I was matched with Stan, one of Dax’s puppies. Stan accompanied me during my junior year at Binghamton University in upstate New York. He was the first-ever guide dog trainee at Binghamton, and I cannot imagine a better dog to lead the way. I was so proud when Stan and his person Sam graduated from Guiding Eyes this March — Stan is Sam’s first guide dog. Right now, I’m raising puppy number three, Lancelot, who is Dax’s grandson. Lancelot accompanied me during my senior year at Binghamton and will join me at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in the fall until he returns for IFT.       

Lancelot walks down the sidewalk beside Stan on a summer day. Lancelot works in his blue puppy vest while Stan works in a leather guide dog harness.

When Sam, Stan’s graduate, called me shortly after they finished home training, he mentioned that we should meet up. I figured out when I would finish college and found a date that we could meet. As the date approached, my excitement grew — I hadn’t seen Stan since July 31, 2020, and I couldn’t wait to meet his forever person, Sam! This June, I drove down to New Jersey with Lancelot by my side. I was so nervous as we approached Sam’s house — would Stan recognize me? Would I make a good impression on Sam and his family? Would Stan and Lancelot be able to work side by side?

Yellow labs Stan and Lancelot pose in a sit together on the stone path. Stan wears his leather guide dog harness while Lancelot is in his blue training vest. Both pups smile happily.

Well, Stan most definitely recognized me! He did his usual tiny bunny hops to say hello to me, and I smiled that big smile that all puppy raisers get when they reunite with a puppy they raised. Sam, his wife, and their family welcomed me with open arms, and Stan and Lancelot worked flawlessly next to each other. After meeting each other in person, we all drove to a flea market where the fun really began. I walked behind Sam and Stan and watched them work together — my eyes filled with tears of joy. The flea market was BUSY with people, tents, food stands, and dogs, and together Sam and Stan navigated them beautifully. I was so proud to see the team walk with confidence and without hesitation through the crowds of people, avoiding obstacles along the way.

Eventually, Sam’s wife and daughter went to another row of vendors, and Sam and I walked side by side. We talked and got to know each other. I shared with Sam what puppy raising is like and he told me all about having a guide dog and how Stan has changed his life for the better. After the market, we went to lunch where the dogs both settled and slept, exhausted from the hard work they did during their outing. Once we returned to Sam’s house, we took pictures, said our goodbyes, and I hopped in my car smiling from ear to ear.

Lancelot and Stan, yellow labs, sit together on the stone path on a summer day. Lancelot turns his head to give the camera a big smile. Stan wears his leather guide dog harness, while Lancelot has on his blue training vest.

Meeting Sam and seeing Stan again was truly magical. I had seen pictures and videos of Stan guiding Sam, but seeing the team work in person made me even prouder. The bond Sam and Stan share is unlike any I have ever seen before — Sam places total trust in Stan, and in turn, Stan keeps Sam safe. There is no doubt in my mind that Stan is exactly where he was destined to be, and being able to say that makes my heart beam with pride.

There are very few, if any, situations in life where a person can play a part in giving a gift as extraordinary as a guide dog, and I am so lucky that I played a part in training Sam’s guide dog. All those hours practicing loose leash walking, reworking the grocery store cheese aisle until Stan wouldn’t sniff the Parmesan, and working on dog distractions have paid off a million times over.