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Puppies Trained to Guide the Blind


Volunteer "Puppy Raisers" from left, Lynette Gebhardt, Debbie Dugan, Leigh Goetzke and Debbie Roschli pose with puppies, Feb. 8, 2022.
Puppies Trained to Guide the Blind
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

For many blind people and those with vision difficulties, life can be made easier with a guide dog. But making a good guide dog takes much work. And for many, the long road begins when the dog is a puppy.

Take for example, the five 8-week old puppies that arrived at the Tipton Airport in Fort Meade, Maryland early in February. At that time, they were loving, playful animals – like all puppies. Now however, the Labrador retriever and German shepherd puppies are on the road to becoming useful members of society.

Volunteer puppy raiser Suzette Galyean works with 5-month-old German Shepard puppy Thunder during a Guiding Eyes for the Blind big puppy class at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, in Bowie, Md., Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Volunteer puppy raiser Suzette Galyean works with 5-month-old German Shepard puppy Thunder during a Guiding Eyes for the Blind big puppy class at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, in Bowie, Md., Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

If they prove themselves able, they could become guide dogs. They will help to improve the lives of people with vision loss and vision impairment.

The faithful-friends-to-be are part of a training program of an organization called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The puppies flew from the organization’s head office in Yorktown Heights, New York, to Maryland onboard a “Pilots To The Rescue” flight.

Pilots to the Rescue is a not-for-profit organization that transports “…animals as well as people at risk,” it states on its website.

The puppies were born in Yorktown Heights. And they spent the first two months of their lives with their moms and siblings. The young dogs were bred for health and temperament. (Here, “temperament” means how they respond to their environment.)

However, breeding alone will not be enough to turn these puppies into guide dogs. They will need training from dog training experts.

They also will need to be nurtured by volunteers called Puppy Raisers. The goal of this nurturing by Puppy Raisers and their families is to turn the energetic, playful puppies into well-behaved and well-socialized dogs.

These are the qualities needed for a successful guide dog: well-bred, well-trained, well-behaved, and well-socialized.

Queenie, an eight week old Labrador puppy, yawns before the start of her Guiding Eyes for the Blind foundation class with volunteer puppy raiser Debbie Dugan at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, in Bowie, Md., Feb. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Queenie, an eight week old Labrador puppy, yawns before the start of her Guiding Eyes for the Blind foundation class with volunteer puppy raiser Debbie Dugan at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, in Bowie, Md., Feb. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The process will take about 14 to 16 months of weekly classes and testing. Training starts with the basics: name recognition, behavior, and commands such as “sit” and “down.” The trainers then move on to more complex commands. After that, the puppies are given to the Puppy Raisers. The raisers and their families will show the puppies the world and how to act in it.

A manager for Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Puppy Program is Cindy Tait. She told the Associated Press that other experts will keep a watchful eye on the training and help with any problems the raisers may have along the way.

Once a solid, loving foundation is in place, puppies must leave their raisers and return to the Guiding Eyes training center for official guide dog training. Formal training is where the dogs demonstrate whether they will become a guide dog for the blind, a different kind of service dog, or someone’s pet.

This means there is almost always a tearful goodbye.

Delani has completed this stage of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program and must leave Schaefer his "Puppy Raiser" and journey back to the Guiding Eyes headquarters for formal training to become a guide dog. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Delani has completed this stage of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program and must leave Schaefer his "Puppy Raiser" and journey back to the Guiding Eyes headquarters for formal training to become a guide dog. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Denali is one of four bigger puppies. He was placed aboard a return flight to Guiding Eyes the day the new puppies arrived. Tait got tears in her eyes as she watched Puppy Raiser Carolyn Schaefer say goodbye to the yellow Labrador and walk him to the plane.

“This is the hard part,” Tait said. But she said a guide dog has the power to help people. And that softens the blow, an expression that means “makes a hard thing easier.”

Even though it can be very hard to leave the puppies, puppy raisers come back over and over. Tait herself has raised many. She lists them all: Roxanne, Katrina, Velour, Gus, Mystic, Oregon, Kelby, Tad, Eagle, Winnie, and now Kenji, her 11th future guide dog puppy.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I’m Anna Matteo.

Carolyn Kaster reported this story for the Associated Press from Fort Meade, Maryland. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

vision – n. the act or power of seeing

impairment – n. diminishment or loss of function or ability

sibling – n. one of two or more individuals having one common parent

breed – v. to produce or increase (animals or plants) by sexual reproduction

temperament – n. a person's attitude as it affects what he or she says or does

nurture – v. to further the development of

basic – adj. of, relating to, or forming the base or essence

foundation – n. the act of beginning or creating

demonstrate – v. to prove or make clear by reasoning or evidence

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