2018-03-16 / Community News

Organization seeks puppy raisers to be ‘Guiding Eyes’

By Allison New Contributing Writer

Jethro waits patiently for his turn to show off his skills in puppy training class at Falmouth Foreside Community Church. (Allison New photo) Jethro waits patiently for his turn to show off his skills in puppy training class at Falmouth Foreside Community Church. (Allison New photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a nonprofit organization in Maine that through the use of volunteer puppy raisers, provides service dogs for the visually impaired.

“Our raisers are responsible for nurturing a puppy to prepare it for guide dog training. Raisers care for our young dogs and equip them with the skills they need to take on a job that will change someone’s life. Many of our volunteers find the experience life-changing, too,” according to its website.

Larry and Janet Amberger have been raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind since 2007. They first came to the organization after they lost both of their family dogs. When they relocated to Cape Elizabeth they met a neighbor who was raising puppies for Guiding Eyes and they quickly realized it was a program that they wanted to become involved with. It wasn’t long before they brought their first puppy home.

There are two primary objectives in the program that puppies must meet to be considered as suitable companions and service dogs. The first objective is for the puppies to have perfect house manners. This means that they are properly trained to go to the bathroom outside, do not chew on household items, and are not destructive. The second objective is socialization, and for the puppies to display indifference to unexpected situations, such as loud noises, new environments, and strange people.

At 8 weeks the puppies are tested for temperament and intelligence and are again tested at 15 months. The second test determines what the next step for the dog will be. This is when it is decided if the dog will be selected for guide dog training or if it will become a breeder dog for future guide candidates.

Dogs that do not pass the second test will be placed into other programs where their skills and aptitude can be utilized. Some dogs go on to become police and detection dogs. Others may become companions for people with PTSD, and some have gone on to become autism therapy dogs. The dogs that don’t fit into these programs happily go on to be adopted into loving homes. Out of the 425 dogs that have gone through the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Program, approximately 170 to 175 have made it to Guide Dog status.

Camille Clifford has been a raiser for eight years along with her daughter, Hannah. They brought their first puppy home when Hannah was 12.

“I always wondered how a dog becomes a guide dog. The spring after my mother passed I saw a picture of this cute little puppy face on the Falmouth Notes with the words ‘Puppy Raisers needed’ printed under it, and I knew I had to do it. (I learned that) it’s a lifestyle and it’s all encompassing. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it.”

When asked about separating from the puppies when it comes time for them to move into their new doggy careers, both the Ambergers and Camille Clifford said it’s bittersweet.

“The bottom line is that there are things that help a little. Guiding Eyes will always have another pup for you to work with. What really helps is when you can see the difference the pup makes for the person it’s trained for. Some pups are harder to give up than others, (but in the end), it’s like a big extended family,” said Larry Amberger.

For more information about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, visit www.guidingeyes.org.

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