The Truth About Guide Dogs

Guide+dog+puppy%2C+Jordy%2C+lays+on+the+floor+at+school.
Guide dog puppy, Jordy, lays on the floor at school.

Guide dog puppy, Jordy, lays on the floor at school.

Guide dog puppy, Jordy, lays on the floor at school.

Katarina Schilling, Staff Writer

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As distracting as it may be to have dogs roaming the halls and sleeping in classes, these cute little animals help more than people could imagine.

The puppies that can be seen around school are in association with a program called Guide Dogs for the Blind.  Guide Dogs for the Blind is a non-profit organization that puts months upon months of work into each and every dog in hopes of successfully training a dog that is able to safely help and guide a visually impaired person to live as full a life as they can.

Each puppy is placed with a raiser, which is a student who has taken the guide dog class and filled out an application to get placed with a puppy, when they are about eight weeks old, just old enough to live away from their mother.  The raisers generally don’t know what breed the dog is, the name, and sometimes not even the sex of their puppy.  The dog then lives with the raiser they were placed with, and learns basic house manners and obedience.  After about a year has passed, the well-behaved puppy has one final evaluation to see if they are ready to travel to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus, where they will go through eight phases of in-depth training to become a guide dog.

“The training is extremely difficult,” sophomore puppy-raiser Anthony Pignanelli said, “the dogs are asked to do so much, and there are some dogs that just can’t do it, no matter what the raiser does to help.”

Because of the major task the dogs are taking on when becoming a seeing-eye dog, these animals need to be as close to flawless as possible, for once they are placed with a blind person, the dogs will need to make the conscious decision to be good on their own without being watched.  These high expectations lead to an extremely high number of puppies who do not make it as seeing-eye dogs.  When this happens, the organization does everything they can to put the dogs in a better environment for their abilities.  When this happens, it is called career changing.

When dogs are career changed, they are put into a program where they will still be helping the community, but they will be placed with an owner who will be able to see them and confirm that they aren’t getting into trouble.  Many of the dogs who get career changed become diabetic alert dogs, but there are also dogs that help with PTSD and seizures.

Aside from the program being beneficial to the community, allowing kids to raise a puppy on their own quickly teaches massive levels of responsibility.

“I’ve definitely become a lot better at time management,” Pignanelli said, “you need to be extremely organized and have all of the dog’s stuff ready to go, rather than just your own.”

Having a puppy to take care of on top of a regular high school life is certainly more than the average teenager’s responsibility, and it allows kids to learn life lessons early on that can benefit them through their entire life.

“The guide dog program really changed my life,” puppy raiser Elizabeth Ball said, “it’s an experience that is priceless, and watching them change so much in just a year is amazing, and it makes all the hard times worth it.”

Many of the students say that the hardest part of puppy raising is the abrupt inevitable change in scheduling.  As soon as you receive the puppy, your schedule has to change to revolve around the dog as opposed to yourself.

“When you raise a dog, your time becomes someone else’s time,” Pignanelli said, “if you want to hang out with friends, you can’t.  A lot of sleep is lost when they’re puppies or if they get sick in the middle of the night.  Suddenly, all of these new responsibilities fall in your lap, and you have to take care of all of them.”

The puppy raising program is fun, and the dogs are cute, but it is so much more than that.  The raisers form immediate bonds with their dogs, and as much as the puppies will be missed, the main reason the kids take the class is to help someone in need, and all we really want is to see the dogs succeed.  The road to getting the dogs ready to become a service animal is long and harder than one could imagine, but helping another human being and allowing the dog to shape you into a new person makes every problem and inconvenience beyond worth it.

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