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We Love Our Puppy Raisers
Rutgers students volunteer with future Seeing Eye dogs
Beth Finke with her Seeing Eye dog, Harper.

I’ve been home three months with my new Seeing Eye dog Harper. He’s a two-year-old yellow bundle of Labrador energy, and not a day goes by where I don’t think of—and thank—the wonderful volunteer who raised him as a puppy. Harper and I trained for three weeks at the Seeing Eye last December. Before we left for home, our instructor read me Harper’s “puppy profile.” Each person who volunteers to raise a puppy for the Seeing Eye is asked to write up a little report. You know, to let us in on what our dogs lives were like before we met them.

 
Here’s an excerpt: Harper was attending classes at my university (including attending the graduation!), going on buses and trains, attending other club meetings, university equestrian team shows with 20-plus horses, a trip to the airport, going on a plane but not taking off, emergency vehicles, malls, stores, fairs, the beach (his favorite), on a boat, in pools, overnight charity events, elementary school presentations, a retirement/recovery home, soccer, football and hockey games.
 
Whew! Harper is one well-traveled dog, and he did all that even before he was a year-and-a-half-old! And yes, you read that right: He was raised on a college campus; he’s a Rutgers grad. An article on the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club website describes these generous students who volunteer their time to raise puppies for us.
 
“To truly stop and spend a few moments observing the volunteers of the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club, you’re struck too by their obvious affection for and commitment to their charges—cute, adorable puppies with names like Elroy, Yankee, Harper and Oz.”
 
Did you read that? The article mentions Harper! What a sweet little puppy he must have been; imagine the attention he got on campus. College students at Rutgers have been providing a welcoming home for Seeing Eye puppies since the year 2000, when the Rutgers chapter of the puppy-raising program began.
 
After leaving the Seeing Eye breeding station, seven- or eight-week old German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and crosses of these breeds are placed with puppy raisers until they are 16- to 18-months-old. Raisers train the puppies in basic obedience, house manners, how to walk on a leash, and expose the dogs to real-life situations they might encounter once placed with a blind person like me.
 
But back to Harper’s puppy profile: His puppy raiser said Harper loves squeaky toys, so we knew to give him some of those when he came home with me to Chicago. She also said that he loves being talked to in a singsong voice, so just imagine how much I sing to him now. My favorite part of Harper’s puppy profile: “He is the coolest dog I’ve ever had. His personality is a great combination of independence and affection.”
 
Amen to that. THANK YOU, Harper’s puppy raiser. And thanks to all the other wonderful, generous volunteer puppy raisers out there. You are our heroes.

 

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Beth Finke's book, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound—about her bond with her Seeing Eye dog—won an ASPCA/Henry Bergh children's book award. Follow Hanni and Beth's travels on the Safe & Sound blog. bethfinke.wordpress.com

Photo by Maria Apone.

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