The Seeing Eye

The Seeing Eye If you love dogs, and love to help others in need, then raising a Seeing Eye dog through 4-H could be for you. The Seeing Eye is the oldest existing dog guide school in the world. They give puppy raisers from age 9 up to adult age a chance to raise a puppy and help others. You could raise a German shepherd, Labrador retriever, golden retriever, a Labrador/golden cross, and occasionally boxers bred through The Seeing Eye.

The Seeing Eye was started a little before 1928, when a young man named Morris Frank read an article about guide dogs being trained for blind WW2 veterans. He was frustrated by his own lack of mobility as a blind person, so he wrote a letter to the author of the article. Dorothy Harrison Eustis was an American training German shepherd dogs in Switzerland. After she received Morris Frank’s letter, she agreed to help him. He in turn promised he would return to the United States and spread the word about these wonderful guide dogs. In 1928, after completing instruction in Switzerland, he arrived in New York City. He proved the ability of his dog Buddy before throngs of news reporters. “His one-word telegram to Mrs. Eustis told the entire story. “Success.” Thus, The Seeing Eye was born, with the dream of making the entire world accessible to people who are blind.”

The Seeing Eye has partnered with 4-H since 1942 to organize and maintain puppy raising clubs. Many of the clubs are still affiliated with 4-H, though not all of them are. These clubs meet regularly to plan outings, provide socialization and share tips on teaching good puppy behavior. You and your family are a foster family for the puppy, until it goes to training. You get to care for the dog, and give it gentle guidance so it learns the basics it will need to expound on later. You get to see a cute little puppy grow into a sleek dog that will someday help give a blind person more independence and a sense of security.

The Seeing Eye programs allows families in New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and parts of New York and Maryland to raise puppies. These families give their puppy tons of affection, basic obedience skills and are also responsible for socializing the dogs in a variety of situations so that they are well rounded and prepared for life helping a blind person.

When you decide to be a puppy raiser, call The Seeing Eye Area Coordinator for your county (click here for a list of contact information). You will be invited to a puppy club meeting in your county where you can learn more about the program first-hand. For more information, e-mail the Puppy puppyraisers@seeingeye.org.

One of the most important parts of raising a puppy is exposing it to many different situations. While working Seeing Eye dogs are allowed access to public places, your puppy is not. However, after it receives its 13-14 week vaccination, you are encouraged to take it with you to stores and on public outings; you just need to call managers ahead of time to make sure it is okay.

When the dog is reaches the age of 16-18 months old, it is returned to The Seeing Eye to continue its training. After having had the dog as part of your family, if you are the foster family , it can be hard to give it back. “But knowing that you are raising your puppy to enhance a blind person’s independence makes it worth the effort.”

After the dog returns to The Seeing Eye, it is given many health checks. The dog will then go on to work with a professional instructor. Over the next four months, the dog will become a Seeing Eye dog. At the end of the training, the foster families are invited back to see their dogs walk through the town with the instructor. After the dog is matched with a blind person, the foster family will receive a letter saying what state the dog lives in and a little about the person the dog has been placed with.

Blind or visually impaired students come to The Seeing Eye in Morristown twelve times a year to spend a month working and training with their new Seeing Eye dog. These students come from all over the United States and Canada. “They range in age from 16 to senior citizens, their home environments may be rural or urban, and they may be homemakers, volunteers, or judges. But they all have this in common: They are motivated by a sense of independence and armed with the knowledge that Seeing Eye dogs will provide an extra edge to attain success, however they may choose to define it.”

So, what happens if a dog you foster fails the training? If that happens, you will be asked if you would like to keep the dog as a family pet. If not, the dog will be placed with a family waiting to adopt or with a law enforcement agency so the dog can continue to work.

The Seeing Eye is not supported by the government, but through the support and contributions of the public. Contributions and donations are important, but “just as significant are the gifts made by our hundreds of volunteers, who devote their time, energy, and talents to advance The Seeing Eye mission.”

To learn more about the Seeing Eye 4-H puppy raising program, go to seeingeye.org.

5/9/15

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Author: Jessica Westerland, R. Cohen

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