“Guiding Eyes broods provide such a vital service to the blind community. Their puppies will grow up to be guide dogs and allow safe travel, independence and new opportunities for vision-impaired people,” said Vikki Iwanicki, program manager at the non-profit’s Canine Development Center (CDC, http://www.cdc.guidingeyes.org/) in Patterson, NY. “We don’t keep our dogs in a kennel environment. That is why we’re looking for more homes for our breeding dogs. We want them to live happy, active lives in loving homes, and return to the center periodically for breeding.”
Most of the dogs in the program are Labrador Retrievers, although some German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers also participate. Prior to being placed in the Brood/Stud Program, the dogs are born and socialized with other puppies at the Center. They are then raised and trained by volunteer “Puppy Raisers” across the Northeast who teach them basic obedience and house manners, and socialize them in a variety of environments. Those dogs that have an exceptional temperament and good health, are selected to be Broods or Studs for the program. These “cream of the crop” dogs are usually available for placement at about 16 months old.
In order to qualify to take home a Brood, volunteers must live within an hour and a half of Guiding Eyes’ Canine Development Center in Patterson. They must agree to exercise the dog for three miles every day, keep the dog in excellent physical shape and follow some simple rules (such as keeping the dog on leash in any unfenced area). The dogs are great with children and other pets, and are highly adaptable to most living situations.
Guiding Eyes provides free veterinary care, including all flea, tick and heartworm preventative medication, free instruction in dog handling and obedience, and a 24-hour veterinary hotline. Once the dog is retired from the program, Guiding Eyes will neuter or spay the animal at no charge, and the foster family can adopt it as their own.
Iwanicki and her husband, John, even provide a home for a brood themselves. “We have loved every minute of our time with our precious girl, Hattie,” said John. “She has brought us immeasurable joy and has transformed us from couch potatoes to avid walkers. But more important, we have loved seeing her puppies grow up to be guide dogs. When you see the enormous difference that a guide dog brings to the life of a blind person, you can't help feeling proud of the small part you played in getting them there. I highly recommend the program to anyone who is looking for a furry family member and wants to do something to help others."
About eighty percent of the dogs in the Brood/Stud Program are female, and are brought to the CDC when they are in heat or to give birth. But there are males too, known as “studs”, that are also looking for homes. Volunteers interested in harboring a stud should live within one hour of Patterson, NY given the short notice that they may have when their stud’s services are needed. They are also required to exercise the dog three miles each day, keeping it healthy and happy.
“Many fosters tell me their male dogs really enjoy going to the Center for their ‘dates.’” Iwanicki laughed.
Perhaps one of the most fulfilling aspects of the program is that fosters are invited to the graduation ceremony of any of their “grandpuppies” that graduate as guide dogs.
“When I saw my first grandpuppy graduate as a guide dog I thought I would burst with pride!” said Iwanicki, “It’s immensely satisfying to know that Hattie’s puppies will grow up to change the world for a blind person.”
If you are interested in fostering a dog as part of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Brood/Stud Foster program, please contact Linda Hines at 845-230-6424, or toll free at 1-866-GEB-LABS. For more information, you can also visit the CDC online at http://www.cdc.guidingeyes.org/.