KENMORE, N.Y. — If you’re looking to foster a puppy, this story is for you. It’s important to note these pups won’t be going to just any home after yours - they’ll be used as a guide dog. Right now, Guiding Eyes for Blind is in desperate need of 'puppy raisers.'
Meet Iroquois, a 17-month-old pup training to be a guide dog.
"He is a puppy in training," Barb McCabe, a puppy raiser with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, said.
McCabe, aka Mom, at least for now, is a puppy raiser. Dogs like Iroquois start phase one of training at just eight weeks. McCabe has been teaching this four-legged furball basic obedience, house manners and getting him socialized.
"You get that young puppy, and watching them progress through, and develop their skills is just wonderful," McCabe said.
McCabe is no stranger to this process. Iroquois is the 16th dog she’s trained.
"I’ve been doing this since 2005, and as you can tell, I’m hooked," McCabe laughed.
As McCabe explains, it’s like watching a child grow up, knowing they are destined for something great. McCabe praises him for making a good choice. It's one that could ultimately lead to saving the life of his future partner. You see, McCabe also has to teach this pup 'intelligent disobedience.'
"Learn to back up instead [and] disobey the command because it’s not safe for the team," McCabe said.
For example, if Iroquois is told to cross a street, but sees a bike coming, he’ll know to stop and wait. He’s also taught now to take stairs slowly, and most importantly, leave any food on the ground right where it is. One day, it could be medicine that could hurt him.
"So she learns real early that good things come from me," Dianne Ende, the regional coordinator for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, said.
Belgium is Ende’s 15th dog. She says there are hundreds of blind or visually impaired people waiting for a guide dog. That’s why they are putting out a call for puppy raisers. They need about 20 in Western New York alone.
"We got behind as many organizations did during COVID," Ende said.
Now they’re hoping to go full steam ahead, with a little help from you. Unlike when you take home that fur baby from the breeder or shelter, Guiding Eyes literally guides you along the way. Pre-placement classes are given, so you know exactly what you’re getting into. Vet expenses are covered. Plus, you get a crate and a collar. And we cannot forget to mention, all the puppy kisses.
"It is amazing to see what they can do for somebody, and it is amazing to know you had a part in it," McCabe said.
After puppy raisers return the dogs between 16-18 months old, senior breeding and training staff determine if the pups are ready for guide dog training or if they're more suited for another career.
There is also an Open House on Oct. 10 from 6 - 8 p.m. at St John's Lutheran Church Hall in Lancaster if you wish to learn more and get involved.