She hears the whispers when she walks into a store with Conrad, dressed in a green jacket, at her side.

“Theyll say, Shes blind,” Sally Fleming-McCullagh says and smiles. “I usually like to make eye contact with them.”

A member of Paws With a Purpose, Fleming-McCullagh is raising one of six Labrador retrievers the valley group hopes will graduate into guide work for the blind.

The short-term, intensive program is sponsored by a national group called Guide Dogs for the Blind. The process is both challenging and rewarding, members said.

“I could give money to a charity, but this is something that is priceless,” said Fleming-McCullagh, who is raising her fifth dog.

Raisers receive the dogs when they are about 2 months old and keep them for a little more than a year.

During that time, the animals are subjected to a strict regimen designed to prepare them for their future owners needs.

No table scraps. No fetch.

“Youre basically training them not to be a dog,” Candy Berthrong said.

If a dog decided to chase after a ball, “it wouldnt be an issue for us, but if you cant see it could be dangerous,” Moriah Berthrong said.

Even while they are being trained, the dogs are considered service animals in Utah, allowing raisers to take them to work, school, restaurants or shopping malls.

Candy Berthrong said she has taken her Labrador, Dorian, to a number of musical performances even the opera.

“Hes getting very cultured,” she said.

Raisers are not charged with training the animals. When the dogs are ready, they are sent to a campus in California or Oregon for extensive training.

By the time they are done, the animals have received about $100,000 worth of training, Fleming-McCullagh said.

Most in the group are self-proclaimed dog lovers who develop deep bonds with the animals.

“They say dog owners start to look like their dogs,” Berthrong said. “I can vouch for that; I have dog hair everywhere.”

Parting ways with the dogs often proves the greatest challenge for the raisers. How they do it is the first question raisers are usually asked, they said.

“When I raised my first dog, I thought, Labs are a dime a dozen. Im not going to get attached,” Lynn Anne Hansen said. “It took about five minutes to realize I was wrong.”

Hansen is raising Arcadia, her sixth lab in six years.

But when Moriah Berthrong attended graduation for Val, the Labrador she raised last year, she gained a better understanding of why she became involved with the group.

The womans face “lit up” as she reveled in being able to take walks at night with her new companion.

“I love dogs,” Moriah Berthrong said. “But I do not have the relationship that these people have with them.”