A nonprofit organization for raising seeing eye dogs benefits the blind--and the volunteers
Suffolk resident Eugene Martin with Avis, his family’s third pup from Guiding Eyes for the Blind
Puppies are one of the few untainted treasures of the world. Nothing can brighten a day like an armful of puppies to love you unconditionally. Now there’s a way to enjoy the company of cuddly pups while helping others.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a phenomenal nonprofit organization that enables singles or families to raise and train a puppy and send it off to steer blind and visually impaired individuals. It seems unthinkable—how could one give their puppy away once they’ve bonded?
“People always say it’s like sending your kids off to college,” says Kristin Martin of Suffolk. Her family has repeatedly volunteered with the program and is currently raising their third guiding-eyes pup, Avis. “You’re going to miss them, but you’re really excited for their future. You’re sad, and they’ll always have a place in your heart, but you’re so excited about what they’re doing.”
The Martins stumbled across the nonprofit organization after they lost a dear family member, their chocolate Labrador. They decided it was a perfect fit for their family. Their curiosity in the program and initial sorrow bloomed into a rewarding story that bystanders might find difficult to understand—giving a nurtured puppy away.
Linda Damato, Director of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, says that the caring and compassion of volunteers is what initially drew her to the program. “I just fell in love with what we do and the remarkable stories from people; sometimes I hear my raisers say they’ve gotten more out of this than they’ve given,” she says. “You get to see this miracle that takes place with this puppy going out to be somebody’s guiding eyes. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Each dog is exceptionally smart and bred by the organization’s own breeding colony, which breeds dogs with superior health and temperament. Everything from kennels to cutting-edge training and veterinarian care is included in the extraordinary program, with the exception of dog food. The all-expense paid program is virtually open to anyone, even those who have no experience raising dogs.
“You have families who want to teach responsibility and giving something to someone else. We have people who simply love dogs, and it’s a way of life for them. It’s a whole wonderful range of people,” Damato says.
After applying, potential raisers are introduced to the program and the mission of the organization during a four-week pre-placement course. Prospective volunteers are then matched with an eight-week old Labrador retriever puppy. During the first three months, raisers and their pup go to weekly classes, which teach basic obedience and allow them to socialize with other puppies in the program. Most importantly, they differentiate between work and play.
After the three months, the classes become biweekly until the puppies reach 16–18 months. The dogs are sent off to New York where more formal training occurs to reinforce behavior and obedience for an additional five months. Guide dogs are then matched with their new owners through an interview process. Once chosen, students are accommodated and placed in residential housing on the training headquarters in Yorktown Heights, NY to engage in a 26-day course. Throughout the course, the dogs meet and train with their new owner through various excursions including curb training, learning guide dog commands and walking their dog with a harness in the bustling city, which leads to a much-anticipated graduation. Puppy raisers are invited to this monumental day and are finally able to see their dogs walking out their fate.
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity,” says Kristin Martin. “You start with this little puppy that you taught how to sit. Then you watch them guide somebody, and you see it’s their true path. It’s an amazing experience, and it makes it all worthwhile.”
To learn more about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, visit www.GuidingEyes.org