Blind World Magazine

There is only one Seeing Eye.

October 19, 2005.
The Beacon, New Jersey.

Through the years, I have had the privileged opportunity to provide my services to Seeing Eye dogs.

I'm not referring to the finished product - guide dogs in service to blind persons.

I refer to Seeing Eye pups being raised by their "foster" families.

Last week I received a poster and some pamphlets from the Seeing Eye soliciting potential foster homes for their pups.

The Seeing Eye's one and only 60-acre facility is located in Morristown, N.J., and consists of kennels, administration offices, dormitories, clinic, etc. There are other agencies and providers of guide and service dogs, but there is only one Seeing Eye. It is funded exclusively by private endowment and individual contributions. It receives no government subsidy.

A separate breeding facility off campus is the source of all of the potential guide dogs used by the Seeing Eye. It breeds German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and lab-golden retriever mixes.

Upon special request, and it would require a blind person with a unique personality, boxers are requested for guide dogs. The Seeing Eye purchases these.

Approximately 600 pups are bred each year, and about 800 dogs are being fostered at any given time. At 7 weeks of age, the pups are assigned to a foster home.

These are volunteer families or individuals in the private sector who accept the responsibility of raising the pups for the Seeing Eye until 18 months of age. At this time, the pup is relinquished back to the foundation for training. Volunteer foster homes are acquired by word-of-mouth, advertisements and newspaper columns such as this.

Foster homes are required to have a fenced yard and at least one person at home most of the time. Homes of working families with no one at home all day are unsuitable. This is because a primary objective of this foster period is for socialization, basic obedience and supervised exposure to diverse facets of everyday life. This would include other people, dogs, auto travel, parks, cities, stores, etc. This is accomplished by taking the dog with you for some of your daily outings.

Puppy raisers are required to attend one meeting per month at an affiliate 4-H Club. These gatherings provide further training exposure and an opportunity to compare notes and see how your puppy is doing.

The Seeing Eye pays for all veterinary bills, and a dog food stipend is provided. Education scholarships are awarded to qualified children of families who have fostered two or more pups.

At about 18 months of age, the young dogs are returned to the Seeing Eye for training. One instructor works with 10 dogs with handlers twice daily for four months.

Fifty-five percent of the dogs graduate and are ultimately assigned to a blind person. The 45 percent who don't go on to service, either for physical or performance reasons, are returned as pets with the foster family having first right of refusal.

It must be an exciting experience for a blind person to acquire one of these wonderful dogs. A token fee of $150 pays for the entire package!

The blind person is flown to Morristown. He or she stays in a campus dorm for the entire period, during which the "student" is matched with a carefully selected compatible dog, and both are trained as one. Airfare, room and board, the dog and training are all included.

One can easily appreciate the nonprofit nature of this organization.

All of the fostered pups seen at our practice have been from puppy raisers in private family homes, most of which include children.

An immediate reflex hesitation to volunteering for this commitment would be "how in the world do you give these pups back after becoming so attached, particularly children."

Yes, it would require a special person with a clear understanding and acceptance of the mission at hand.

However, one can easily perceive this as an excellent learning opportunity, especially for the children. Commitment, responsibility and the selfless giving of service to others are valuable lessons for any youngster.

These dogs are legendary. If you think you have the stuff to participate in this developmental process, contact the Seeing Eye -

or (973) 539-4425.

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