Blind World Magazine

Dogs that show the way.




Federal Way Mirror, Washington State.
Saturday, March 11, 2006.

By ERIN WIGGINS.




For most people, puppies are cute, cuddly and sometimes overwhelming to deal with. Imagine not only having to deal with puppies all the time, but raising them for almost two years and then having to give them away.


A select group of people in the Puget Sound area do this all the time. They raise guide dogs. One of those people is Kelly Reiter, who is raising her fifth dog, Trinity.


"I have never thought of these dogs as my own," Reiter said. She sees raising them as a privilege.


To raise guide dogs, a person must attend meetings, take classes and follow a guide given to them by Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc.


The puppies and their raisers belong to clubs that give the raisers training and organize outings for the puppies. Outings include riding on buses or walking along the Seattle waterfront. These outings help make sure that the dogs will have experience with any situation that a blind person would be in, according to Barb Baguhn, the leader of Training Paws 4-H Guide Dog Club in Auburn.


The puppies are bred in California. The breeds that are used are German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and lab/golden crosses. The qualities that the breeders look for include temperament, intelligence and health.


A puppy is placed with its raiser when it is 8 weeks old. It will usually stay with that raiser until it is 14 to 18 months old. The raiser takes the dog almost everywhere, gets it acclimated with public life and teaches it basic obedience, according to Reiter, who lives in Kent.


When the puppies are ready, they are returned to the guide dog school for formal training. Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc. has two campuses, in Oregon and California.


For about five months, the dogs receive training daily on a campus. The skills they learn include leading a person from two points in a straight line, stopping at all changes in ground level, avoiding obstacles and ignoring distractions.


A blind person who wants a guide dog must become a student at the Guide Dogs for the Blind school. They stay on campus for four weeks the first time they get a dog. They get training on how to live with their dogs, according to Reiter.


When the blind person and the dog complete the training, they attend their graduation. The puppy raiser gets to present the person with their dog.


"It is an amazing thing to bless a person with a dog," Reiter says. "It gives them eyes."


Baguhn has raised 12 puppies. She admits it is hard to give the puppies up when they are ready to go back to school.


"I just always remember what (the dog) is going for," said Baguhn. "When you meet the blind person, it takes away any negativity."


Reiter and Baguhn believe the reward they receive for raising a puppy is the way that the dog can change a blind person's life.


The Puget Sound area has seven or eight clubs that are similar to the club in Auburn that Baguhn is in charge of. They are affiliated with 4-H. The number of puppies in the clubs ranges from seven to 16.


The clubs do some recruiting. They are always looking for more people who would like to raise puppies. "It is sometimes difficult to get people," said Baguhn.


For some people, an 18-month commitment is a long time. There are shorter options. Short-term raisers are responsible for housebreaking it and basic training until it is placed with another raiser, according to Reiter.


If that is still too much of a commitment, puppysitters are also needed. They are required to go to club meetings and learn the basic commands. When a puppy raiser goes out of town or is unable to take their dog somewhere, they can call a sitter, according to Baguhn.


Raising a puppy is completely volunteer. Families are given stipends for veterinary expenses, but that is it. All other needs of the dog, such as food and toys, must be provided by the families.


News intern Erin Wiggins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com



http://www.fedwaymirror.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=91&cat=23&id=606573&more=.




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