The Seeing Eye(c) is the oldest dog guide school in America. For 75 years, they have provided Seeing Eye dogs to people who are blind or visually impaired. The organization recently matched their 14,000th dog. Today there are more that 1,800 active graduates of The Seeing Eye around the world.
The Seeing Eye has been recognized due to all their work in the community as the 138th Point of Light through Fomer President Bush’s Administration, in honor of the volunteers at the organization’s headquarters, who walk the dogs, greet guests, guide tour groups, run errands for students, and complete any number of the daily tasks needing attention.
However, The Seeing Eye believe another group of special volunteers also deserve recognition…the puppy raiser families who set the dogs on an early course toward their eventual destiny.
Since 1942, The Seeing Eye has partnered with 4-H clubs to provide volunteer puppy raisers. These volunteers provide future Seeing Eye dogs with a foundation of love, trust, and gentle guidance the dogs could never receive growing up in a kennel.
At about seven weeks of age, a puppy goes to its volunteer puppy raiser’s home where it lives for the next year to fifteen months. Puppy raisers attend regular Puppy Club meetings, organized by local 4-H programs. There, they learn how to teach their puppies basic obedience: sit, rest and come, lessons crucial to the dog’s formal training when it returns to the school.
A large part of the puppy raising experience is exposing the puppy to a variety of social situations it will encounter as a working dog. Regular outings coordinated through the Puppy Club provide many of these experiences, but families plan other activities on their own.
Not only do the puppy-raising families make an extraordinary commitment in terms of time, since the puppies must accompany the puppy raiser virtually 24-hours a day, but also in terms of their personal property. It is the puppy raiser, after all, who teaches the early lessons about chewing, digging, and housebreaking!
About half or the puppy raisers are between 9 and 19 years old. One person in the family has primary responsibility for the pup’s care. Providing love and companionship is the easiest part. The hardest part proves to be returning the puppy to The Seeing Eye so it can pursue its special destiny. However, many puppy raisers view the return of their puppy as a most rewarding part of the experience, knowing that their generosity of spirit will give another the gift of independence and dignity. Parents tell the organization that being a puppy raiser teaches their children the value of compassion and altruism. Many of them ultimately become nurses, teachers, or animal care workers.
There are currently 820 families in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware raising more that 850 dogs. This dedicated corps of volunteers is an invaluable part of The Seeing Eye program. It is because of the volunteers that the organization can continue to provide graduates with high quality Seeing Eye dogs; dogs that change people’s lives.