Jenny Collins of Portland, Ore. and her Labrador retriever Patience, a certified therapy dog, spent many happy years together visiting families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, prison inmates during family visitation events, young readers in Reading with Rover programs at nearby libraries, and college students preparing for exams. After a long, wonderful life, Patience died in July of 2017. Jenny was devastated. Knowing she wasn’t ready to bring another dog into her life, Jenny sought ways to volunteer with dogs to help fill the void left by Patience’s absence.
Jenny found the perfect match: Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), a nonprofit organization created in 1942 that breeds, trains and places service dogs with vision-impaired adults for greater mobility and independence. The organization is funded 100% through private donations and places its highly-trained service dogs free of charge to the client, including transportation and room and board while they undergoing two weeks of training. Each guide dog, when ready to be placed, is the result of an investment of roughly $50,000, and GDB nurtures that investment with annual checks to make sure the team is thriving, even sending a trainer if any issues arise. GDB’s dogs are mostly Labrador retrievers, with some golden retrievers and lab/golden mixes. Already enamored of labs, Jenny realized that helping raise GDB puppies would be a good volunteering fit for her as she grieved the loss of Patience.
Helping a Puppy Become a Guide Dog Guide Dogs for the Blind relies on puppy raisers to start each new puppy on its long path toward training and graduation as a service dog. First there are the staff and volunteers who help the canine moms raise their litters through the first eight weeks or so at the organization’s main San Rafael campus in California. At two months, the puppies are ready to live in puppy raiser homes, most transported on the Puppy Truck to various locations where puppy raisers meet their puppy for the first time. Then, each puppy is placed with a puppy raiser for roughly a year, after which they go into formal training at a GDB campus in California or Oregon. In some cases – like Jenny’s, because she works full-time – a puppy raiser partners with a puppy starter who takes the two-month-old puppy for two months, doing most of the early potty training and teaching basic obedience skills while finishing the vaccination schedule that started at the San Rafael campus. “I’m grateful beyond words for the puppy starter families because otherwise, I couldn’t do this,” says Jenny, acknowledging that her work schedule prevents her from being able to devote the time necessary to support a puppy through their first few months in a home. GDB covers all veterinarian care for the puppies, including vaccinations, heartworm and flea medications, while the volunteer puppy raiser provides the kibble, a home and lots of love.