Now I ask you, what’s not to love about puppies?
For the past 10 years I’ve been volunteering at the Seeing Eye®, which is the oldest dog guide school in the world and happens to be located just down the road from me in Morristown NJ.
During those 10 years I’ve raised 4 puppies, 3 of whom went on to guide a blind person. I’ve educated 1000’s through outreach programs and tours on campus. I’ve walked the adoptable dogs waiting to go to their new homes and washed and filled dog dishes. All these volunteer positions have been very rewarding, but my all time favorite is spending my Sunday mornings at the breeding station. Some people go to church, but for me, being with these loving dogs is not much different.
I’ve spent many hours over the past five years walking the breeders and playing with their puppies. Raising 4 of those puppies was so wonderful on many levels, especially watching them work in harness after their formal training and witnessing how much they had grown since I got them at 7 weeks. But at the breeding station, I have the joy of playing with litters of 4-7 week old puppies several times a month. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. 😉
Most of these adorable puppies, with their expert breeding and training, will grow-up to guide a blind person. Those that don’t make it as a guide may go on to do police work sniffing out bombs, excellorants, drugs, etc. Others go back to their puppy raisers or get adopted out to families. A fair number of those adopted dogs end up as therapy dogs or other similar work. When I was a hospice volunteer with the NJ Visiting Nurses Association, I would bring the puppy I was raising with me when visiting clients who had a fondness for dogs.
One such client I visited weekly for 5-6 months. The last time I saw Inga, she was not communicating much with her family and had spent almost a week in a semi-comatose state. We all knew her time to pass was near. The day I came with my dog Oslo, Inga had not communicated with anyone for several days. Her son had come up from Florida and had not had any lucid moments from his mother. He thought it was pointless for Olso and I to be there, but I knew otherwise. I sat down right next to the bed with Oslo near her face. Within moments Inga opened her eyes slightly and tried to lift her arm to pet Oslo. She was too weak, so I put her hand on him. As soon as she felt him, her eyes opened very wide and a small smile came across her lips. Her whole face brightened for just a moment. That was all the strength she had left and her son was blown away by what he had witnessed. About two hours later, Inga was gone.
Inga’s daughter Lisa, who I had met with many times over the months, called me after her brother told her what had happened and in tears thanked me for giving her mother one last visit with Oslo. Months later after Oslo finished his formal training, Lisa joined us for his town-walk. (A town-walk is when the puppy raiser watches from a distance the puppy they raised walk in harness with its instructor).
Needless to say I’ve had many rewarding experiences volunteering for the Seeing Eye® over the years and have witnessed the magic countless times that these dogs bring to the blind as well as others. Plus, I have an endless supply of fur-friends at the breeding station to “speak” to every Sunday.
About a year after Oslo’s town-walk he came back to me because the Seeing Eye® was not able to find the right match for him. He had a few little quirks that made it difficult to match him. My other three were matched quickly. My first puppy Koko (black lab) has since retired and the other two, Otter and Gere and still working and living in the southwest.
Photos from top to bottom:
*Oslo with his siblings at “Woof-Stock”, a Seeing Eye® puppy event.
*At 7 weeks: Gere, Koko, Oslo, Otter
*Oslo w/Inga (waiting for a treat)
*Gere’s official portrait
*On the Hudson River with Myra & Koko, me with little Oslo and our friend Lilly.
I’ve always been a big believer in volunteering and giving back to my community. Over the past 40+ yrs. I’ve done this in many ways. From teaching Sunday school, to hosting AFS exchange students, to working in my kids schools on projects, to being a room mom and H.S. Music Booster Pres. for 7 yrs. But for the past 10 yrs. my work has been with my BFF’s (best furry friends) and I love it. I plan to continue to work with animals either with the Seeing Eye® and/or in an animal shelter. It is there I feel I can do the most good with my skills communicating for those that are seldom truely heard.