I first became involved with Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) six years ago when each class in my school was asked to do a community service project. I had always wanted to become a Puppy Raiser and thought doing so would provide an amazing opportunity for my kindergarteners as just such a project.
After contacting Guiding Eyes for the Blind and going through their screening process, I received a kennel and an eight-week-old black Lab Guiding Eyes had named Nicky. Yes, the puppies come named from GEB's Canine Development Center's own breeding colony of Labs, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, in Patterson, NY.
I was curious to know how puppies were chosen, or not, for the program. I learned that once a litter is born in the Canine Development Center volunteers at the center would begin handling them right away. This not only helps the puppies along with socialization but also allows the staff to begin noticing their temperaments, sense of self-confidence, and ability to recover from situations. By eight weeks of age the staff is then able to best determine which puppies would be most likely to succeed as a working dog, and off they go to a Puppy Raiser.
Puppy Raisers are responsible for teaching basic obedience, house manners and continue working on socialization with people and other animals. We also provide the puppies with exposure to different environments and all the noise and tumult with which they are filled. Puppy Raisers do not do any of the training involved in guiding; our job is to get them ready to be able to begin training with the GEB professionals for that awesome task.
Nicky and her kennel came into the kindergarten. The kids were responsible for feeding her, taking her outside to "get busy" (as well as cleaning it up!), and did daily obedience training with basic commands: come, sit, down, stay, off, and walking on a loose leash, to name a few. During our work with Nicky, I was pleasantly surprised to receive many wonderful notes from parents telling me that their children had become much more involved in their family pet and its care, were more interested in taking responsibility in home activities, and, most rewarding of all to me, from some, that their children were no longer afraid of dogs.