“The reward to me when working with this program is knowing that someone is going to benefit from this,” says puppy raiser Barb Reindel during a stop in at Lorain County Community College’s NEOLaunch Net offices Oct. 19 with Guiding Eyes For the Blind.
Guiding Eyes started in 1959 with the mission to help others with physical special needs live their lives to the fullest. Today, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization continues this mission by connecting guide dogs with individuals to provide greater independence at no charge.
But before these dogs grow into the exceptional teams seen walking the streets and halls of everyday lives, they must first go through rigorous training. One of the ways this organization ensures the dogs are brought up in a loving, working environment is through their puppy-raising program.
In order to demonstrate this and share some of the joys of puppy raising, Guiding Eyes For The Blind swung by LCCC’s NEOLaunch Net offices bringing four future guide dogs in tow.
According to Reindel, “puppies in the Guiding Eyes program are raised in homes for 16- 18 months before returning to the New York facility for formal classes and training. During the time at home, the puppies attend classes every week for two to three months and are exposed to everyday life.”
The classes consist of different levels, teaching anywhere from basic commands like sit, stay and heel to more advanced ones like drop treat and walk on. “All of the puppies come from the Guiding Eyes $7 million breeding facility where an on-site geneticist helps breed the dogs to the best they can be,” says Reindel.
As for what goes into puppy raising, Reindel says the cost is the same as the basic cost to own a pet. “They provide the puppy, some basic toys and food and all vet bills are covered. The puppies also already come named and know their names, making training pretty easy.”
Each litter is given names corresponding to letters of the alphabet, much in the same way tropical storms are. This ensures no names are reused. “For a donation fee, people can rename the dogs within reason too, like our buddy Freedom over there,” says Reindel.
Freedom, a 4-month-old yellow lab, was born Fred. He currently is at home with a puppy raiser, taking weekly classes in Berea at the Guiding Eyes outreach facility. Once Freedom reaches 18 months, he will return to New York to complete the program.
Nearly 70% of puppies that go to homes go on to become guide dogs. Those that do not complete the training have the option to go into other fields like TSA work, scent detection and police work, or be adopted by their puppy raiser.
For Reindel and other puppy raisers, the program is invaluable. “Many dogs in the program go on to so much,” she says. “ President of Guiding Eyes Tom Panak regularly runs marathons with his guide dog and it’s truly amazing.”
For more information on becoming a puppy raiser, contact Guiding Eyes For The Blind at GuidingEyes.org.