Before she can begin advanced training to become a CNIB Guide Dog, Hero, a black Labrador-Retriever cross, is spending her first year with a volunteer puppy raiser – Erin Jackson.
“I live close to CNIB’s Toronto office and would regularly drive by and see the CNIB Guide Dogs van,” says Erin. “I was intrigued so I learned about the organization’s initiatives, accomplishments and how I could help. I knew being a volunteer puppy raiser would be a perfect fit.”
Hero is “chill as a cucumber”, according to Erin's eldest son. Calm, loving and always happy, Hero loves meeting new people, but she has a playful side.
“If Hero wants to play but my son is doing homework, she will try to knock the pencil out of his hand to get his attention,” laughs Erin. “She usually gets her way.”
Hero’s loving personality was especially apparent this past summer. After tearing his Achilles heel, Erin’s husband needed crutches and a cane. Hero knew exactly how to help, so she walked slowly, providing him with support and better balance, and climbing stairs at a slower pace. In the evenings, she would comfort him by resting her head on his “good” leg.
Erin takes Hero everywhere she goes, so she can gain experience in as many different environments as possible.
“I like taking her to the mall because we can do a lot of different training activities there, like riding the subway, climbing the stairs, taking the elevator and there is always a lot of people and new things to see,” says Erin. “The school drop off/pick-up area is a great place to practice avoiding distractions, like scooters, bikes, strollers, kids, and other dogs.”
This spring, Hero and her other puppy pupils will head to the Canine Campus in Carleton Place, Ontario, to begin their advanced training. While saying goodbye can be difficult, Erin is prepared.
“I'm always asked: ‘How are you going to let her go after 15 months?’. I always say that it will be hard, but I take comfort in knowing that Hero is meant to go on and do great things,” says Erin. “Every day I read so many stories of CNIB Guide Dogs giving people the chance to lead more independent lives. Puppy raising is a part of the process – it’s essential for the dog’s growth, development and training, so that they can be the best they can be.”
Erin is confident that Hero will live up to her name.