Guide Dog puppy caretakers raising hope
BRECKENRIDGE – Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy raisers Grant and Judy Reid know their efforts can change lives.For five years, the Breckenridge couple has worked with young dogs in the program which matches the visually-impaired with a trained guide dog. The volunteers socialize the pups from the age of about eight to 10 weeks until they are 14 to 18 months old, readying them for their next step in training at one of two professional facilities on the West Coast.The Reids, who are currently raising their fifth puppy, Whitman, found out how important the dogs are to their new owners when they got a call from the organization about the first young canine they’d worked with, Felda. They were told the woman the dog had been matched with could no longer keep the pet, and asked the couple if they would like her back. They accepted, knowing the dog had been through the professional training process and thinking of Judy’s sister, who had recently had brain surgery and was having difficulties with balance.When Felda was returned, the Reids equipped her with a balance harness and gave her to Judy’s sister, essentially giving her her mobility back.”It’s about more than just getting around safely,” Judy said. “It expands social horizons.” She said her sister, who previously was using a cane, now has people coming up to her wanting to pet the dog.
“She’s never had anyone say, ‘What a beautiful cane,'” Judy said.The Reids said they are happy with their arrangement of being puppy raisers because they don’t have their own dog and like retaining their freedom. They also enjoy taking the puppy everywhere they go, as part of the training. However, keeping a pet for only about a year before turning it over isn’t easy.”We do get pretty attached,” Grant said. “The big downside of doing this is having to let them go.”Volunteer puppy raisers get started by attending a local puppy raising club meeting. The Reids said there are three clubs in Denver and also locations in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. After attending a few meetings and being interviewed by the club leader, interested puppy raisers puppysit for a certain number of hours as a final test determining if the situation is right for them.After passing the review process, the new members are given a manual which thoroughly covers all the issues in dealing with raising a puppy, Grant said.
“Our primary job as puppy raisers is to teach basic obedience, good house manners and socialization,” Judy said.”We need to expose them to a wide variety of situations that a visually-impaired person might experience,” Grant said. He said they take their puppy on planes, near horses, around firehouse sirens – anything distracting. “We want them to be comfortable in all situations,” he said. “We go out of our way to get that breadth of experience.”The cycle continues each summer with the arrival of the puppy truck in Denver, Grant said. On this exciting day for members of the club, puppies now ready for their formal training are recalled and new puppies are passed out to the raisers.The dogs ready for professional training are returned into the kennel-equipped, air-conditioned truck bound for the Guide Dogs for the Blind schools in either San Rafael, Calif., or Boring, Ore. After five months of formal guidework training at the facility the dogs are matched with a visually-impaired person who is enrolled in the in-residence training program at the school.
Judy said the professional trainers pay close attention to the dog’s gait – how big and energetic their steps are as well as how big the stature – and match them with a person on campus. The pair then trains together for a month at the school. A closing ceremony then introduces the new team to the world.Puppy raisers are invited to the graduation, where they have the dog they trained back for a few minutes before ceremoniously handing over the leash to the new owner.”We really want them to be guides,” Judy said of the sometimes difficult process of releasing the dog. “We don’t want them to come back. They have a job to do.”For more information on the nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind, visit http://www.guidedogs.com.
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