by Catherine Kieran, volunteer Puppy Raiser
As a volunteer puppy raiser for CNIB Guide Dogs, people always say they couldn't do what I do because they wouldn't be able to give up the puppy. I think I can speak on behalf of most volunteer puppy raisers when I tell you, "It isn't easy".
In fact, it can be downright heart-wrenching. When you send them off to advanced training, the mere mention of their names is enough to burst into tears.
After spending a year with my first guide dog puppy, Sherman, I learned I'm not good at saying goodbye. I taught him basic obedience and socialization skills. Although, to be honest, I think Sherman taught me more than I taught him – especially when it comes to patience and perseverance. Both Sherman and I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when he mastered a new skill and I delighted at seeing him burst with pride when he learned something new.
Some people seemed surprised when "Sherman the Tank" graduated in November 2019. Yes, he was 80 pounds of personality…but he was very smart and eager to please. Today, he's partnered with someone with sight loss – and, from what I've heard, they have an exceptionally strong bond.
More recently, I said goodbye to my second guide dog puppy, Hope, a black lab who wags her tail with her whole body and has a fondness for liver treats and belly rubs. Like Sherman, she is also very smart and eager to please.
I wouldn't say it's been easier to say goodbye to Hope – far from it. Her pawprints are permanently imprinted on my heart, along with Sherman's. Although, now that I've raised two puppies for CNIB Guide Dogs, I have a much better understanding of what's to come and – most importantly – I've witnessed the life-changing impact that guide dog partnerships provide for members of our communities who are blind or partially sighted.
There is tremendous pride in being part of a team of volunteer puppy raisers, working towards a common goal. Together, we raise puppies and help set them up for success so they're up to the challenge when it's time for them to work with the guide dog trainers and guide dog mobility instructors.
When your future guide dog completes his/her advanced training and is matched with a Canadian who has sight loss, there really is no greater feeling. It's something very special…you're part of a team of passionate people who care about helping someone regain their freedom, their confidence, and their independence.
Giving them hope.