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Sunday, July 10, 2011

A "Puppy Raiser" Extraordinaire

What we love about writing this blog is that we learn so much about animals and their humans, and then we're lucky enough to be able to pass that information on to you. So here's our latest adventure: Parental Unit spent the Fourth of July weekend in Florida, without me, but with her dearest friend, and it just so happened that one of her friend's neighbors is a "puppy raiser" for Southeastern Guide Dogs. Parental Unit had the pleasure of chatting with Belinda Ream, puppy raiser extraordinaire, and meeting her latest puppy, Nonna.

See Belinda and five and a half month old Nonna below.

But before we get to Belinda and Nonna, here's a little information about Southeastern Guide Dogs: Their non-profit organization has provided guide dogs at no cost, to people with visual impairments for 29 years-that's over "2500 guide dog teams" they've successfully placed. They have a 23 acre campus in Palmetto, Florida, where they breed, professionally train, and match dogs of various breeds with visually impaired humans in need. Read all about Southeastern Guide Dogs, here:

But there's an essential step in the puppy to placement process that occurs mostly off the bucolic Guide Dog campus, and that's the year-long stint of "puppy raising", where volunteers like Belinda, take a nine week young puppy into their homes and raise these exuberant canines to "become well-mannered, confident and socialized," before they return to school to begin formal guide dog training.

We were stunned at the amount of daily work that goes into this business of puppy raising. Once you're accepted into the program and are officially licensed, you are presented with a thick manual to read, understand, and implement, and you and your new puppy must attend a meeting every two weeks with others in your group and the regional coordinator (Belinda's group has 13 members), where you discuss your adventures and perhaps some trials and tribulations, while being quizzed on that manual. By the way, if you happen to go on vacation, your puppy is temporarily placed with another puppy raiser and they attend the meetings in your absence.

Nonna taking a well-deserved nap at Belinda's feet. (Guide dogs in training are not allowed on furniture!)

Although Belinda considers raising these puppies as her job, she says that it really is "a lot of fun to take your dog with you everywhere you go"- grocery stores, restaurants, the symphony (yes, you read that right, the symphony!), and as long as your pup is wearing his blue jacket that says "Guide Dog in Training", you can't be denied access-although Belinda says that she's sometimes had to flash her official card to remind well-intended shop keepers. (Note: it takes twice as long to run those errands with puppy in tow!)

Although these pups will be professionally trained, raisers like Belinda do train their dogs in basic and advanced obedience. And then there's the socialization...with other dogs and animals, people and children, and exposing them to any situation she can possible think of (in addition to the extensive, mandatory list in the training manual). The regional coordinators we spoke of earlier, are charged with planning outings for the region's group every two weeks, like, for example, bringing 13 trainers and their dogs to a local symphony performance. Belinda says that they all met back stage with the symphony, and the pups got to get up-close and personal with an Oboe or two! That, folks, is socialization with anything and everything!

We have a photo to share, courtesy of Belinda, of one of the pups meeting a firefighter in full uniform on one of their outings.

We're guessing that the most frequently asked question of a puppy raiser is "How does it feel to give those dogs up after living and working with them for over a year?" Well here's Belinda's response: "She feels like she's sending a child off to college...Saying goodbye is a sad but proud moment", that's now marked with an official ceremony. And Belinda is a veteran puppy raiser-she's devoted her time to this volunteer business for five years, and Nonna is her fourth dog. She also says that she constantly keeps in mind the visually impaired person that the dog will eventually be placed with-that person her pup will eventually help-she's doing this for them, not her. But here's one bitter-sweet moment she shared with us: She had the opportunity to meet up with one of her dogs, Casey (whom she described as the love of her life), and the blind woman she is now serving. And although Casey greeted her warmly, it was clear that she had become officially attached to her new owner and immediately returned to the side of the woman she served...as it should be.

Here are a few photos of Belinda, and Nonna in her official jacket.

We are so grateful to Belinda for sharing her time and her beautiful pup, Nonna, with us so that we could share her story with you! And a big fat thank you to Parental Unit's dear, generous friend, Eileen, for sharing her neighbors with us!


Kolchak Puggle said...

That is so awesome! Puppy raiders are such special people. We have a service dog in training that plays at our park. He is one cool guy.

Of Pit Bulls and Patience said...

That really is an amazing "job". I know a few people who have been doing it for years, and it's just like raising a kid to send them off to college- just jam packed into a single year!

Jennifer - Southeastern Guide Dogs said...

I am so glad that you got to learn a bit about puppy raising from one of our wonderful volunteers! We have puppy raising groups all over the southeastern US, so if any of your readers are interested in bringing a velvety bundle of joy into their homes, they can go online and complete an application.

Thank you so much for the posting!
Jennifer Bement
Southeastern Guide Dogs

MommyDigger.com said...

Such an amazing pup!

Following you on NB now too :) Thanks for linking up at the Monkey Hop!

Renee DeMartin said...

Great informative article. Such an adorable lab puppy.

Amanda said...

Thank you for linking up on the Monday Monkey Blog Hop!

I'm now following you, hope to see you again next week



browndogcbr said...

Hi Y'all,

My Human, who used to volunteer her time to read to record books for the blind, has been promoting lots of puppy raisers who have blogs. (See the Inspiration Award post from June 24th)

Having some friends who are blind, she noticed how they constantly praised the puppy raisers. Pleased to find some of them had blogs, we've been following these most amazing journeys.

So great your parental moment got to meet a puppy raiser and the puppy!

Y'all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

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