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About a year after Tom and I were matched, his puppy walker (what the Guide Dog Foundation calls their puppy raisers) sent me a package.  A lovely hard cover book filled with photos of Tom growing up in their family.  Such a lovely and thoughtful gift.  Both Tom and the book.

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Oil painting head study of Tom I did from a photo his Puppy Walker took of him around age 8m.  The original painting done on wood was a gift to Tom’s Puppy Walker.

Yesterday I had the kids (my gaggle of nieces and nephews) as usual and read them the book for the first time.  They loved it.  Couldn’t believe Tommy was in a book!  It was fun sharing with them Tom puppy photos, his first year of life and about Tom’s first family.

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Photo from http://www.guidedog.org of a yellow lab puppy in his yellow future guide dog puppy jacket

Being a Guide Dog Puppy Walker is a mighty task but one with such rewards.  I am thankful daily that Tom had such a loving, fantastic home.  Tom was the first puppy they raised, and they did an amazing job with him.  Such amazing people.  They loved Tom, and they did so knowing he was destined to be more than their dog.

For those unfamiliar with the process.  Guide dog programs carefully breed and whelp litters of future guide dog puppies.  GDF (Guide Dog Foundation) does this I believe mostly at their breeding facility on Long Island in NY, but I think they might also have people and families trained to whelp and raise litters in their homes.  The breeding dogs live in homes with volunteer Breeder Caretakers just like a regular pet dog and return to the Foundation for health testing and breedings.

Once the puppies have been raised with their dam and litter mates, they are placed in volunteer Puppy Walker homes from the age of around 8 weeks until they are called back for formal training around 14-18 months of age.  GDF has puppy walkers all over the east coast from New England to Florida.  Puppy Walkers are regular people, all volunteers, they can be individuals, they can be families, they can be students, they can be retired, they can have full or part time jobs.  You don’t need to have had a dog before or know much about dogs at all to be a Puppy Walker.  All that is needed is to have a stable home, and the willingness to love, care, and raise the puppy within the training guidelines.

Puppy Walkers are responsible for teaching the puppy house manners including to toilet outside, basic obedience, proper manners around other people, dogs and distractions and to begin the dog’s public access training by taking them into varying environments.  Puppy Walkers attend regular training classes offered by the Foundation where they train with other puppy walkers and their pups and are instructed by trained staff or volunteers.  The Foundation provides all manner of training and educational support to their Puppy Walkers.  Because GDF has Puppy Walker Groups all over the east coast, there are puppy walker classes all over the east coast.  The Foundation also has a number of prison pup programs, where inmates train and raise the puppies Monday through Friday and volunteer Puppy Walkers take the pup into their home on the weekends to ensure the pup gets exposure, training and experiences outside of the prison environment.  People can even co-raise a puppy, where the puppy’s early life experiences are shared between 2 families.

Throughout the time the dog is growing up with the Puppy Walker there are various evaluations and reports submitted on how the dog is doing to GDF.  This helps them assess when the dog is ready to begin formal training or if the dog is showing signs that they would struggle as a guide or service dog.

When the dog is called back to the Foundation for formal training, there are various health evaluations done and then the dog is matched with a guide dog instructor to begin their formal guide dog education.  The hope is the dog will pass all the various evaluations health, temperament and training to graduate and be matched with a disabled client.

The Puppy Walkers are all volunteers and they donate their time, love and care to the mighty task of raising these puppies all while knowing the goal is for the pup to grow up to be a working guide or service dog.  The dedication and selflessness is incredible.

I will always be grateful for Tom’s Puppy Walker Family.  He would not be the dog he is today without them.  He is a very precious gift.

The Guide Dog Foundation is always seeking new Puppy Walkers.  If you would like to learn more about their volunteer opportunities please visit:  www.guidedog.org

An educational video from The Guide Dog Foundation on Puppy Raising:

via Daily Prompt: Mighty