Happy news about animals
Imagine waking up to darkness.
An estimated 10 million Americans wake up every morning in darkness, according to the American Foundation for the Blind, and with an American going blind every seven minutes many more people will learn to live in the dark, the foundation said.
But they are getting four-legged help.
The world famous guide dog school, The Seeing Eye, provides trained dogs to guide visually impaired people and to help them live on their own.
Its Morristown, N.J., campus has a puppy raiser program that places a 7- to 8-week-old puppy with a volunteer who introduces the young pup to the world through which it will lead a blind person.
Last August, The Seeing Eye showed its appreciation to dedicated puppy raisers by giving out 70 $1,000 scholarships to participants who have trained more than one dog. Stephanie Esposito of Middletown and Catherine Pang of Newtown have already put theirs to good use.
Trainers are required to give the puppies basic command training, love and affection and must socialize the animals. “You get so attached to them,” said Esposito, “they become part of the family.”
The socialization of the dogs is very important. Without experiencing different people and animals, the dog might react unexpectedly when faced with something new, harming itself or its handler.
Esposito, 18, attends James Madison University in Virginia to study health sciences and has been a puppy raiser since she was 11. In addition to her involvement with ballet and tap dancing, she has raised three puppies and is training one now at her home in Middletown with some help from her sister Christine, 16, who is also a certified puppy raiser.
“The first three couldn’t become Seeing Eye dogs because of health or temperament reasons; we’re really hoping that this one will make it,” said Esposito.
Esposito’s mother was a Girl Scout troop leader when Stephanie was 11 and would take her along to Scout meetings; at one of those meetings a guest speaker from The Seeing Eye talked about the puppy raiser program. She had always asked her mother for a dog but had never been allowed to have one until her mom agreed to let her train a puppy for the program.
“When you first get them, that’s the best time; all they want to do is play and cuddle on your lap,” said Esposito, admitting that the little balls of fur are a lot of work, too.
Pang, also 18, is enrolled at Penn State University to study special education and is planning to be an elementary school teacher for special needs children. She is active in swing dancing, theater and choir. The three puppies Pang has raised were also unable to become Seeing Eye dogs, however, her second one, Marie, did become a breeder dog.
“I was always really into dogs, but my parents would never let me have one,” said Pang, “but then my mom heard about the program and decided to let me have one.”
On average, the puppy raisers care for their dogs for 14 to 18 months before returning them to The Seeing Eye to possibly become a guide dog.
“You know you’re only raising the puppy for about a year, so when the time comes you pack up their toys and say goodbye,” said Pang.
The Seeing Eye, cooperating with the 4-H Youth Development program, developed the puppy raiser project in 1942.
“About 50 percent of the puppies raised become seeing guide dogs; some of the failures go onto police work, becoming drug sniffing dogs, others become breeders,” said Bonnie Lannom, head of communications for The Seeing Eye.
“It’s really touching,” said Esposito, “just seeing how much it changed their lives makes it worth it.”