Have you thought about getting a dog, but you’re afraid of the commitment? Are your kids begging for a puppy but you aren’t sure if they’ll help pitch in to care for it? Have you never owned a dog before and are worried you won’t like the dog breath and scooping up land mines in your yard? Are you concerned about the costs associated with having and caring for a dog? I have a solution for you! Raise a guide dog puppy.
Several years ago, we contemplated getting a dog after ours had passed away. We went back and forth on getting a puppy from a breeder, getting an adult dog from a rescue, or even fostering dogs for a rescue group until they were adopted. We liked the idea of using our love of dogs to serve. Eventually that desire evolved into looking for organizations that raise assistance dogs. For us, here in Virginia, Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been a great fit. We signed up and after some pre-placement classes about the training program, we got our first puppy. Even my self-proclaimed, non-dog-lover husband was right in the thick of it with us.
What to Expect
There are differences between guide dog schools, so I can only speak from our experience, but many are similar. Even if you’ve never owned a dog before, there is a whole community of people with experience who will help you every step of the way. It truly takes a village. Even though we’d had a dog before, and I work with dogs all the time at the veterinary hospital, we had a ton of questions. Our “puppy partner” and regional manager always welcomed our (endless) queries and never made us feel stupid.
What You’ll Spend
The costs associated with raising a guide dog puppy are minimal. Vaccinations, veterinary care, and monthly heartworm and flea and tick preventatives are all usually free for the (puppy) raiser. We also never paid boarding fees, since any time we went out of town the puppy just stayed at another raiser’s house. In fact, they encourage you to swap puppies or schedule puppy-sits often so the puppy is exposed to many different homes and environments.
The invaluable training classes were free as well and the wealth of information we received was incredible. Many of the techniques I learned I’ve passed on to clients at the veterinary hospital where I work. We were also provided with a loaner crate for the puppy and some toys. Of course, we bought more toys — KONG Stuff-A-Ball Dog Toy, KONG Wubba Dog Toy, Nylabone Dog Chew Toy, KONG Safestick Dog Toy, Chuckit! Classic Launchers, Cadet Natural Bone for Dogs, Tug-o-War Dog Play Toy, Nylabone Dog Chew Toy — and added to that collection!
The only thing we paid for was puppy food. Guiding Eyes feeds their puppies Iams dog food, which is very affordable and can easily be purchased at the grocery store. With some effort, you might even be able to contact a pet store retailer or dog food company and see if they’ll sponsor your puppy. (Royal Canin supplied all the food for one of our pups in training and all I had to do was send a few emails explaining our cause. They were more than happy to help.)
Who Can Participate
One of the reasons we choose to raise guide dog puppies is because it’s something our whole family can do together. When we got our first puppy, my boys were 5, 7, and 10 years old and they came to all of the classes and worked that puppy! We took turns feeding him and practicing obedience with him, as well as walking him and picking up after him.
My eldest son was able to finish raising our third guide dog puppy on his own. He was 13 at the time. He was the one who handled the puppy in public and took him to class. For my shy, introverted boy, it was amazing to watch him answer questions when people asked him about our guide-dog-in-training. It became a great service opportunity and something unique to include on his college applications.
If You Feel Overwhelmed
As far as commitment goes, if you ever feel overwhelmed and want to stop raising, they’ll find another raiser for your dog to finish him up until he goes back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Some raisers find they like the younger puppies better and only want to start them. Others prefer the more mature pups and want them after they’ve been housebroken and have learned the ropes a bit. The puppies stay with the raiser until they’re between 14-18 months old before returning to New York for testing and formal training.
It’s Not Always Like Having a Pet
Having said all this, there are many aspects of raising a guide dog puppy that are drastically different than just having a pet of your own. One of our main roles as puppy raisers was to take the puppy out in public and expose him to different sights, sounds, and textures underneath his little feet. He earned a “jacket” once he was about 4-5 months old that he had to wear to the grocery store, the movies, dinner out… wherever we went.
Our puppy had to learn to do all the really cool (and essential) obedience and manners stuff everywhere he went. We didn’t take him everywhere all the time, but we definitely had to pencil in unique exposure outings several times a week and realize that if they didn’t go as planned, we may have to cut things short and head home.
Time to Say Goodbye
Another more painful truth about puppy raising is that you do have to give them back. Each puppy has a unique way of working their way into your heart. BUT, I can tell you from experience that the pain is well worth it once you learn your beloved puppy has been matched and will be changing someone’s life. Our first puppy, Baldwin, was assigned to Tom. With Baldwin by his side, Tom said he was able to be a better husband and father to his two little girls. Hearing this, our whole family was in tears. Realizing the puppy we raised had a higher purpose than just being a pet made the process worthwhile.
Eventually, if you raise long enough, one of your pups won’t quite make the cut as a guide dog and if the organization can’t find him another job (autism, bomb sniffing, police dog, etc.) he will be offered back to you. If you can’t take him or don’t want him there is a very long list of adopters hoping you’ll say no. But if you say yes, you’ll have a well-behaved, sweet-tempered, cuddle bug of your very own. As far as the dog breath goes, I don’t think anyone in our family likes it, but we’ve just gotten used to it! A little dog breath is definitely worth all we’ve gained from being involved with the Guiding Eyes for the Blind organization.