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Wanted - People to raise canine candidates for lives as guide dogs

November 13, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - Midway through an after-school event at the Shepherdstown Public Library one recent afternoon, Kathleen McAllister handed each of the 25 children a white note card with this written on it in Braille: "You see a puppy. A blind person sees the world."

The children actually were seeing several puppies - yellow Labradors and one black Labrador being trained as guide dogs for blind people.

McAllister is among a few people in the Eastern Panhandle who raise puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a national organization that provides guide dogs to the visually impaired at no cost.

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There are plenty of guide dog puppies. What is needed are more people willing to raise them.

Raising a puppy requires no special skills.

Commitment is what is needed most.

Raising a puppy, from 8 weeks old



A puppy arrives at its raiser's home at 8 weeks old. The puppy does not know its preselected name, is not housebroken and knows no commands.

For 13 to 14 months, a raiser teaches basic obedience, socialization and handling skills, but not the formal guide dog training. That six-month training program is done at a center at Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

The raiser teaches the puppy to sit and lay down, using verbal and hand commands and pieces of dry food as a reward, along with the word "yes" whenever the dog obeys.

Puppies are trained to use the bathroom only when given the "get busy" command. They also are trained to ignore all food not offered by a handler since large cities sometimes use substances that can resemble food to control pests, including pigeons.

While being raised, the puppies must be walked five days a week in a town on sidewalks. They are not allowed on furniture, cannot be fed food meant for people and must be taught to ride quietly in a car on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

Classes must be attended twice a month and puppies should be taken on everyday excursions such as shopping trips and while traveling and eating in restaurants.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind pays for all veterinarian expenses and a crate so the puppy can be crate-trained. The puppy raiser pays for food and toys, attends the puppy's graduation and meets the blind person with whom the dog has been paired.

Once paired with a blind person, the dog does not do all of the work, McAllister told the children gathered at the library.

"Dogs do not see (street) lights change from red to green," she said, attempting to dispel one myth.

The person should listen for traffic to stop, but still must rely on his or her dog to make sure no cars are coming. If a car is approaching, the dog must be confident enough to stop, which is equal to disobeying his handler and referred to as "intelligent disobedience," McAllister said.

It takes a special dog to be a guide dog, she said.

Saying goodbye



First-time guide dog puppy raiser Alice Odin of Martinsburg, W.Va., has been with 12-week-old Kimba for the last three weeks. He learned his basic commands on the first day with her and is never out of her sight, she said.

Odin said she takes Kimba for walks in towns in the area to expose him to traffic, people and other dogs.

Although she said she will be sad when the day comes for her and Kimba to part, she said she will be bolstered by his purpose.

Plus, Odin said she intends to continue raising puppies after Kimba leaves.

"They don't let you stay sad too long because along comes another puppy," Odin said.

McAllister has been raising puppies since 1997, when she read about the program in a Herald-Mail story. She now is raising Eric, a 14-month-old yellow Labrador, and Nero, a 5 1/2-month-old black Labrador. Nero is the 12th dog McAllister and her husband have raised.

The couple already has asked for a 13th puppy.

"It's challenging, but it's very rewarding when you take a puppy," McAllister said. "Whether they become a guide dog or not, we've increased awareness for the visually impaired."

Some puppies do not make it into the guide dog program, but find other careers, including as law enforcement dogs or working with children with special needs.

Others are adopted, with a waiting list for retired guide dogs or those who did not make the program.

McAllister has been able to meet and keep in touch with some of those who now have puppies she and her husband raised.

"We keep in contact, and they've told me how much the dogs have meant to them and in their lives," she said.

Anyone interested in raising a guide dog puppy may go to www.gebshenandoah.com for more information and an application to be a raiser.

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