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Guide dogs need foster families
Labor Day is here again, and as we enjoy this holiday weekend, let us not forget the tireless efforts of all the animals that serve us without question or complaint all through the year. Whether in law enforcement, search and rescue, guiding and assisting the handicapped, or simply in protecting our homes and families, we are indebted to those creatures whose labors are born of love and a desire to please, untainted by the pursuit of money or social advancement. They are truly social creatures, and a great many lessons can be learned through their example. Caring for and helping others brings its own rewards, the value of which far exceeds any financial gains. Positive social behavior is the glue that holds our families, communities, and society together, and this is very simply the labor of love. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is one of many organizations who have recognized the incredible potential of animals to serve our needs. One of the foremost guide dog schools in the country, Guiding Eyes has graduated some 4,500 teams of visually impaired people and their guide dog partners. The program aims to ensure excellence every step of the way. Selective breeding of dogs, most commonly Labrador Retrievers, followed by German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, is utilized to produce dogs of high intelligence and sound/stable temperaments. The 7 to 10 week old puppies are placed with volunteer foster families whose time, love and energy will lay the foundation for the development of a well mannered and socially adaptive dog which can then go on to receive specialized training for serving a blind companion. Lynne Young of Chalfonte in Wilmington is the director of the local puppy socialization program for Guiding Eyes. From coordinating the placement of puppies with families in the Delaware and Maryland area to teaching classes every other Wednesday night in a variety of different settings throughout New Castle County, Lynne insures that these pups become well habituated to the various stresses and stimuli of daily human life. Pups are exposed to offices, malls, supermarkets, churches, elevators and other public and private settings. In addition, basic care, obedience and handling are taught for the benefit of pup and foster family alike. "Each pup comes with its own crate, and all veterinary expenses are covered for the foster family." Ms. Young adds, "Food sponsors are sought from various groups including school classes and local businesses. For $300, they can sponsor a pup for food. The puppy raisers save their receipts and get reimbursed. That way, the donations are tax deductible." "We also provide homes for the pups if the raiser goes on vacation, which is a valuable experience for the puppy, too!" "The W.E. Tobin Foundation has been a major sponsor, helping out with basic operating expenses and also funding any blind Delawarean who goes to Guiding Eyes for a dog." Perhaps the most difficult part of the puppy raising program is when the foster parents must say goodbye to the dog they raised. At 14 to 16 months, the dogs are returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, where if deemed suitable will undergo a minimum 16 weeks of training. They learn to guide instructors around high and low obstacles, to stop at curbs and stairs, both up and down, and to gradually assume responsibility for the safe travel of their human partners. Dogs and blind students are carefully matched. Then they begin learning to get around together starting with quiet areas with few obstacles and very gradually progressing into more complex areas such as crowded stores and busy intersections. Training concludes with a trip to New York City, where teams learn to work on subways, crowded sidewalks, escalators, and modern office buildings. Foster parents are invited to share graduation of the working dog that they raised with the dog's new partner. And while giving up the dog they cared for may be difficult, seeing the results of their labor of love makes it all worthwhile. There are, in fact, many people who enjoy being a part of this effort so much that they continue to raise puppy after puppy for Guiding Eyes. Getting involved with an effort such as this is quite easy. Whether you'd like to become a puppy raiser, food sponsor, or simply make a donation to this cause, you can contact Lynne Young at (302) 478-8291.