WENATCHEE ‚ÄĒ Pancake, Farley and Kudzu look professional in their green puppy-in-training vests. You can see they‚Äôre patient, if not still a little rambunctious, but these three pups are part of a much bigger vision.
They‚Äôre with the Wenatchee Puppy Raising Club, a group of 15 volunteers who work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. The club exclusively raises puppies in the preliminary learning stages of becoming working guide dogs, caring for them until they are ready for formal training.
The club, that relies fully on donations and volunteers, is looking for more people to help them with their efforts.
‚ÄúA lot of times we‚Äôll say ‚Äėraise a puppy, change a life‚Äô and the life you change may be your own,‚ÄĚ supervising puppy raising field manager Anne Tyson said.
Puppies begin their journey at the GDB main campus in San Rafael, California. GDB works with Puppy Raisers in 10 Western states. At two months of age, the pups are ready to get going, and will be sent via a puppy truck to their next location.
The puppies will work with raisers until they are 16 months, focusing on four basic fundamentals: good house behavior, good relieving habits, good confidence in public and good manageability.
The puppies are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Labrador/Golden crosses, all bred by GDB at their main campus. These breeds have been most successful at becoming guide dogs and are selectively bred for health, confidence, manageability and a calm temperament, according to Tyson.
Since the Wenatchee club was established in 2011, they have raised 18 guide dogs and two dogs have become breeders. Two have been sent to training in the last year, and while one is still in active training, the other has graduated.
While not all puppies graduate with a client and become guides, they can use their training to become a hearing dog for a person with deafness or a support dog for court systems. Eight dogs from the Wenatchee club have gone on to other services.
‚ÄúWe support the dog from birth, through puppy raising, through becoming a guide dog, being a guide and retirement,‚ÄĚ Tyson said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no dog brought into our program that isn‚Äôt taken care of for its entire life.‚ÄĚ
Volunteers within the Wenatchee Puppy Raising Club work in a capacity that they are comfortable with. For some, that might mean being a full-time puppy raiser. For others, that might mean assisting with fundraising or flyer design.
A full time puppy raiser will have the pup until they are ready to go to formal training. This is a position with a large commitment. There is the daily care and training sessions that go into raising a puppy, while also monitoring the puppy‚Äôs behavior and utilizing teaching moments to help them grow.
‚ÄúAs they mature and learn, they become a better-behaved dog, have different teaching moments, are taken into the human world to become socialized and learn how to behave appropriately in a human world setting,‚ÄĚ Puppy Club leader Barb Dunn said. ‚ÄúWe take them everywhere with us if possible, providing the situation and the ability of the puppy allows.‚ÄĚ
A part time volunteer splits the time with another family, where they have the puppy for a few days a week for about a year or have them full time for part of the year. There are also puppy sitters, who may commit a few days a month.
Puppy sitters are around for puppies to be exposed to others, which is necessary for their training, or when puppy raisers are going out of town or on vacation.
‚ÄúEven though we all learn the same techniques, people have different pitch or tone to their voice, different inflections, may handle the leash slightly different,‚ÄĚ Dunn said. ‚ÄúAll these things are a little different from person to person. By spending time with others, the pup becomes more flexible and skilled in their response to a handler.‚ÄĚ
Eventually, the puppies will be ‚Äúrecalled‚ÄĚ or sent to formal training after being evaluated by Tyson. The pups in Wenatchee usually travel down to the GBD training campus in Boring, Oregon. After passing eight levels of training there, they will be paired with someone who has applied for a guide dog.
That applicant will meet their dog at one of the two campuses and will become part of a class who will all work with their new guide dogs together.
The schooling, transportation to and from the campus, and dogs are all provided to the client for free, including follow-up training should they need it.
‚ÄúA lot of comments that people say, you know, when they get their guide dog is it leads to freedom and inclusion and just a bigger involvement in community,‚ÄĚ Dunn said. ‚ÄúOften times they‚Äôll say it‚Äôs like flying now instead of using a white cane.‚ÄĚ