Have you ever wondered about the people who raise puppies to be helper, seeing eye, or companion dogs? Have you ever wondered how it all works? If it’s hard to say goodbye?
Well today I am happy to introduce Tara from Back Road Ramblers to tell us all about her family’s experience raising puppies.
I’ve been hanging around dogs my whole life, but my love affair with puppy raising began back in 2007. As a homeschooling family, we’re always looking for cool learning opportunities, especially when they get us out and about in the community. That year we were searching for a project that we could all participate in, and fate intervened rather quickly with a strategically-placed flyer on my regular walking route.
Puppy Raisers Wanted
I did a double-take. Was this for real? Guiding Eyes for the Blind was looking for families just like us! All we had to do was fill out an application and attend training classes, and they would match us with an eight-week old puppy to raise and socialize in preparation for Guide-dog school. I rushed home to tell my family about the flyer, and quickly went online to fill out the application. I’ve always been smitten with puppies!
It turns out that Guiding Eyes for the Blind was indeed a perfect match for us. They’re an internationally accredited nonprofit that provides fully-trained guide dogs free of charge to people with vision loss. The journey of these guide dogs starts when they are tiny puppies — first in the breeding kennels, and then in the homes of puppy raisers. Based in Yorktown Heights, New York, Guiding Eyes manages puppy-raising regions up and down the east coast. We were all taken with the idea of raising a puppy with such an important job ahead of it, and jumped in with both feet.
Getting Started with Puppy Raising
After an initial “pre-puppy” training, we were quickly matched with an eight-week old yellow lab named Raleigh, who immediately became part of our family. We were charged with teaching him house manners, social skills, and basic obedience for a year and a half, after which he would return to Guiding Eyes to finish preparing for his career. As a homeschooling family, it was really easy to integrate puppy-raising into everything we did. Raleigh went with us to swimming lessons, field trips, and soccer games. He helped the boys with math lessons, taught them how to play fetch, and exercised them during recess. Our local Guiding Eyes region helped us learn critical dog-training skills and make life-long friends.
And then, after a short circle around the sun, it was time to say goodbye.
This would be the true test, of course — if we could let Raleigh go, knowing that we had provided him with the foundation he needed to live up to his full potential, then in my mind, our project would be a success. The boys, 8 and 6 years old, had known from the beginning that our time with Raleigh would not last forever. When the day came to send him back to Guiding Eyes, the boys were so excited for him to begin his new career, that not a single tear was shed, not by them at least.
Raleigh went on to become a successful guide dog and is now working in Kentucky. Since then, we have raised four more puppies for Guiding Eyes, learning more and more about dogs, about giving back, and about falling in love. When we started our journey as puppy raisers, the kids had very few responsibilities. With each puppy, they became more confident, taking over the morning walks, training sessions, and attending classes. When my oldest son turned 13, he raised a puppy of his own, a sweet black lab named Flynn, who left a huge imprint on my boy (and his mama). You can read Rowan and Flynn’s story in an article that ran in our local paper.
Puppy raising is now a huge part of our lives, and it will probably continue to be part of my life after my kids (just like the puppies) make their own way in the world. Like raising children, raising puppies take patience, dedication, and love, but it also gives back in a million different ways.
Is Puppy Raising Right for Your Family?
If you’re an animal lover with room in your home and your heart for a puppy, the answer could easily be YES!
Puppy raisers can be from all walks of life — you can live in a rented apartment or own a house. You can reside in the suburbs, the country, or the city. You can be a stay-at-home parent, or have a full-time job. Time, dedication, and patience are the only requirements. It was particularly easy for us as homeschoolers, but when my son started high school, his puppy went with him. It’s an incredibly rewarding endeavour, and the learning opportunities are endless.
To read more about puppy raising in your area, check out these great organizations that train and place service dogs all over the world. They’re all looking for volunteers just like you!
- Guiding Eyes for the Blind – Yorktown Heights, NY
- The Seeing Eye, Inc. – Morristown, NJ
- Guide Dogs for the Blind – San Rafael, CA
- Guide Dogs of America – Sylmar, CA
- Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation – Bloomfield, CT
- Southeastern Guide Dogs – Palmetto, FL
- Leader Dogs for the Blind – Rochester Hills, MI
- Canine Companions for Independence – Santa Rosa, CA
Tara is a full-time homeschooling mom and a part-time freelance writer who loves nothing more than adoring puppy eyes and slobbery Labrador kisses. When not hitting the books with her teenage sons, you will find her engaged in all kinds of dog-friendly activities like hiking, camping, swimming, and playing fetch. She blogs about adventuring and road-tripping with her family at backroadramblers.com.
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