A young woman at our New Jersey book signing Sunday said she’d raised a puppy for the Seeing Eye in…get this…her dorm room! Any of you blog readers out there who are scrambling to find just the right college to attend, may I suggest Rowan University or Rutgers in New Jersey, or University of Delaware? All three host programs for students who’d like to raise a Seeing Eye puppy on campus. Here from the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club web site:
On campus we have fifteen designated apartments where the puppies are allowed in with either the raiser or the sitter. Puppies are allowed to attend classes with permission from the professor and can ride on the University buses.
Following the puppy-raising portion of our puppies’ lives they return to The Seeing Eye, Inc. campus in Morristown, New Jersey for formal training. Upon arriving they spend the first month or two in one of the training kennels adjusting to kennel life and being evaluated medically. The Seeing Eye also evaluates dogs to incorporate into the breeding program at this time. Dogs that are not chosen for breeding are neutered or spayed and have various tests to determine whether the dog is healthy and physically fit enough to become a Seeing Eye Dog.
Puppy raisers give the dogs affection, teach them basic obedience, and expose them to social situations they might encounter as Seeing Eye dogs. Assuming, that is, they make it through to graduation — it’s estimated that only 50% of the dogs born at the Seeing Eye end up being placed with a person who is blind.
Another woman we met at our booksigning fit that statistic perfectly. Her family had raised two puppies for the Seeing Eye, but only one of them was a working Seeing Eye dog now. “Bedell is working with a blind man in Georgia,” she said. “Petey, the other one, lives with us at home.”
Standards are high for puppies, and the Seeing Eye is strict about which dogs make it through training. Fitzi, the puppy who was raised in a dorm room, was a very docile dog, easy to train as a puppy. In harness, however, Fitzi felt the immense responsibility of guiding his instructor across busy streets. He was withdrawn from training after only a month due to his fear of traffic. And Petey? “He refused to relieve himself on concrete,” his puppy raiser explained. “Seeing Eye dogs have to go on command, and Petey would only go on grass!” The Seeing Eye is careful not to call these dogs “rejects” or failures” – some of them go on to other working dog organizations, some go back to their puppy raisers, some are adopted by other families. All of them move on to make someone, somewhere, very happy.
It was fun visiting with people who lived so close to the Seeing Eye. The kids Hanni and I met on our school and library visits on Monday and Tuesday had all seen working Seeing Eye dogs before. Some of them even mentioned the statue of Buddy, the first ever Seeing Eye dog, in the town square in Morristown. During my talk at North Arlington Library on Monday I mentioned the puppy raisers I’d met the weekend before at Mendham Books. Sure enough, when it came to the Q&A, one woman in the audience asked how she could sign up to become a puppy raiser. I beamed.
Hanni and I had a great time in New Jersey and found the people there fun, smart and caring – even though they talk funny. I mean, c’mon. Who calls an Italian sub a “sangwich”?! We hugged our very gracious host and chauffeur (librarian Stephanie Balucci) goodbye at Newark on tuesday. Upon landing safe & sound in Chicago that evening, Hanni and I were reminded how important it is that a Seeing Eye dog be able to “empty” on concrete: there’s no grass at O’Hare!