Raising Puppy With A Purpose - Christy Clark

My husband I have always had at least one dog in our house.  We got Jasmine, a Maltese, when we were first married, and later on, we had Italian Greyhounds. In fact, we still have one, a nine year old named Bacchus.  It wasn’t until my husband went to work with Southeastern Guide Dogs in Florida that we got involved with larger dogs, namely Labrador Retrievers.  We became volunteer puppy raiser for them. If you are unfamiliar with puppy raisers, we a group of volunteers that takes a puppy into our home at ten to twelve weeks of age, raise them, teach them basic commands and house manners and at the end of fourteen months, we give them back to finish their training to become a guide dog, a service dog for veterans, a breeder to have puppies, an ambassador to help spread the word about SEGD, or one of several other careers that they may have.  Sometimes, they can’t continue on to a career due to medical or other issues and then they are offered back to their original puppy raisers, and if they can’t take them, they are put up for public adoption.

Over the years, we have raised five dogs for SEGD, and we are currently on our sixth.    We have had Cindi make it all the way through an become a working guide dog. (She’s still working with her handler, five years later) Freyja became a breeder. (She had three litters and is now happily retired and snoozing at my feet. Idunn was career changed because she had issues with kids at eye level--she didn’t like them. (She’s chewing on a Nylabone next to me on the sofa. Aja was an alert barker, nothing they could do would break her of that habit, and  now she is a very happy pet with an awesome family. Nisey had minor medical issues and is an ambassador for SEGD with a family that absolutely adores her. She goes to schools and let’s children read to her, the best job for her! Finally, Saga is our current puppy. She is ten months old and will go back for training in May.

 Nisey as a puppy

Nisey as a puppy

When you raise a puppy, you take them everywhere with you.  My husband takes Saga to work with him pretty much every day, although sometimes I take her with me to work at Southeast High School.  In Florida, guide dogs in training have the same access rights as service dogs. We take her to the grocery store, to dinner, to the movies, wherever we go because once they go home with a handler, they will face all of these things and more.  We also meet twice a month with our area puppy raiser group where we are give updates on training, learn new skills/commands and socialize the puppies. Then...after we love them, teach them, cry over them, and watch them grow, we give them back.   We give them back at Freshman Orientation on the campus of Southeastern Guide Dogs and send them to ‘college’ in a turn in ceremony.

 Freyja (a retired breeder from Southeastern Guide Dogs) and Bacchus, an Italian Greyhound.

Freyja (a retired breeder from Southeastern Guide Dogs) and Bacchus, an Italian Greyhound.

“I don’t know how you do that, I would get too attached.” Well, yes, we do, but while we may want these dogs, someone else needs them.  They need them to be their eyes, their protector, their comforter, their friend. They need that dog that we raised and tearfully turned in to have a life.  A sight-impaired person needs them to have an independent life. A veteran with PTSD needs that dog to come out of the darkness and function in society again. A family that has lost a lost a loved one in active service, needs that dog to love them and comfort them. Those people need the dogs that we raise more than my selfish want to keep them.  

 Saga, our current guide dog puppy in training.

Saga, our current guide dog puppy in training.

If we’re very lucky, and the dog that we raised becomes a guide or service dog, we get what’s called a Puppy Raiser Day and we get to see our dog that we raised with their new handler.  It is an amazing day and we are still in contact with all of the people who have the dogs we raised and no longer live with us. It reinforces the ‘why’ we raise puppies.

 Idunn, my college dropout, who is adored by us.

Idunn, my college dropout, who is adored by us.

I am very lucky that as a volunteer photographer, I get to photograph this day and see the joy on the raisers’ faces and the joy of the new handler as they meet for the first time.  It makes every sleepless night with a new puppy, the middle of the night bathroom breaks, the many meetings and the emotions of the turn-in ceremony all worth it. I am proud to be a puppy mama to three of my permanent dogs, but I am so really proud to be a temporary puppy mama to those dogs that have come through my house for a little while and have gone on to make a difference in the lives of others.  I do know one thing, when Saga goes in for training in May, I’m sure there will be a little ball of fluff waiting for me to pick her up and start all over again.

 Saga in Cracker Barrel checking out the talking broom.

Saga in Cracker Barrel checking out the talking broom.

For more information on Southeastern Guide Dogs, please visit www.guidedogs.org