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Guide Dogs for the Blind

03/01/2007 02:38PM ● Published by Brandi Barnett

Puppies With Purpose

March 2007
By Cathy Koch

There was a low-lying band of moisture hanging over the Sacramento River as we passed the Riverside Bridge on I-5 headed for San Rafael. I bought some new clothes to wear for the occasion because this was a major accomplishment and  special time in the lives of the students… one that changes how they will see the world and how the world will see them.

I am a part of a unique group of people that raise puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind.With campuses in San Rafael, CA, and Boring, OR, Guide Dogs for the Blind provides specially trained dogs to visually impaired people throughout the United States and Canada.We raisers are high school seniors working on senior projects, 4-H families developing new skills, compassionate young people wanting to work with animals and adults who simply want to give back to our community. Our common bond is our passion for dogs and people.We volunteer 14 to16 months of our time to provide safe homes for puppies from Guide Dogs for the Blind’s own colony of dogs.Most of our pups are Labrador Retrievers; however, Guide Dog’s special stock also includes Golden Retrievers, German Shepard’s and Golden Retriever-Labrador crosses.We work with the pups to develop the skills and confidence for a job that is becoming more and more demanding.

Our Shasta County club, Eyes for Freedom’s motto - patience, practice, and praise - gets us through many of the behavior challenges we encounter… that, and a 1-inch thick Puppy Raising Manual. The manual contains all the do’s and don’ts of raising a puppy, as well as special tips to help us and the puppies make good choices. Two times a month, we meet to discuss puppy-raising issues, practice skills and tell stories. Guide Dogs for the Blind’s advisors are only a phone call or e-mail away for consultation.

Our role as puppy raisers is to expose the pups to a wide variety of life situations and help them develop appropriate behaviors and responses. For example, you might see us walking through the automatic doors at the grocery store three or four times with a pup that seems tentative about the sound and motion of the doors. You will often see us repeatedly walking up and down the dog food isle so the puppy can practice ignoring the kibble spilled from a torn bag of dog food. Some pups get anxious in crowds of people or find getting in and out of cars frightening. Just like the people they are partnered with, each puppy is unique and an individual.

Back on the road, we drive through Vacaville and I can feel the butterflies in my stomach.My thoughts drift as I think how she must have enjoyed the five months of formal training she received when she returned to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Campus. She had a mischievous side and I know she would have figured out ways to displease her trainers if she wanted. One thing that truly makes guide dogs distinctive is that they are thinking dogs. Obviously, they have to be obedient to commands, but more importantly for the safety of their partner, they must also know when to disobey. This is called intelligent disobedience. I knew my little one was full of something like this, but I didn’t realize her behavior would later be called “intelligent”.

I gave her as many experiences as I could, but wondered if it would be enough.We have traveled by bus, ferry, train and car. We have climbed long spiraling stairs, walked through Redding’s MarketFest, and shopped at every kind of store imaginable.We have given talks about Guide Dogs at local schools, Lions Clubs and Rotary meetings. We dined at many local restaurants and attended performances at the Cascade Theater and the Redding Convention Center.We have taken hikes through Whiskeytown, traveled the Oregon Coast and stayed in hotels throughout California and Oregon.

The sound of barking dogsmarks the end of our journey. As we search for a place to park,my tummy is doing flip flops. It is time to see Arcadia again andmeet Susan for the first time before we gather on stage with other raisers and students for a formal graduation ceremony.

My husband and I wait comfortably in the music room of the dormitory, anticipating her reaction when we meet again. On my left, I hear the jingle of tags and someone saying “go slow” as they darken the doorway. A petite woman with curly black hair enters with a small black lab. We say hello to Susan and Arcadia greet us with a wagging tail and then, as if a light switch was turned on, she starts to wiggle out of control and falls to the floor for a belly rub. Oh yeah, she remembers us!

Our time on stage is brief as I wish them safe travels through their new life together, and then all too soon it’s time to say goodbye again to this pup who was so much of my life here in Redding. This time there is a hint of adventure in the air. The plane leaves tomorrow for
Toronto. Susan has a new companion to guide her and Arcadia has a new home.

As puppy raisers, our goal is to give back to Guide Dogs for the Blind happy, healthy and well-mannered young dogs that trust and can be trusted.We could not
accomplish our task without being welcomed by the many Shasta County businesses that open their doors to our visits, the support of family and friends, our employers and teachers, and the encouraging stories of people we meet throughout our travels. I truly believe that this outpouring of support also motivates these pups to grow up believing they are special and perhaps, having a greater sense of purpose.

To see videos, read stories and learn more, visit the web site at www.guidedogs.com.

Eyes for Freedom Guide Dog Puppy Raisers would like to thank the experienced people at Dana Park Veterinary Hospital for their continued care and The Enterprise Lions Club and Burney Loins Club for sponsoring some of our pups.


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