Raise a Puppy and Change a Life

New Year’s resolutions forgotten already? There’s still time for another one, and this one will change the life of someone with disabilities.

“Raising a puppy is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” says Joanne O’Connell of Valley Stream, N.Y., a volunteer puppy raiser for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. As a puppy raiser, O’Connell plays a crucial role in helping a person with disabilities live an independent life.

When a puppy is about 7 weeks old, it goes to live with a foster family like O’Connell’s. She provides love and security, teaches basic obedience and good house manners, and exposes the puppy to many different situations such as riding in cars or trains to shopping at stores to sporting events and family outings. Twice a month, O’Connell attends a special puppy obedience class where she and the puppy get to interact with other puppies in a group setting.

The Guide Dog Foundation is looking for other volunteer foster families to join O’Connell in her special mission.

Puppy raisers are stay-at-home moms or dads, teachers, college students, retirees, or people with flexible work environments. Every puppy raiser family works with a Guide Dog Foundation puppy adviser who provides guidance and support to the raiser.

When a pup is about 14 months old, it returns to the Guide Dog Foundation’s Smithtown campus to begin formal training as a guide or service dog.

“It’s tough to say good-bye,” O’Connell says. “But when I see ‘my’ pup with his new handler, that ache turns to pride.”

There are puppies waiting now for their chance to change the life of someone with a disability.

For more information, call or e-mail the Guide Dog Foundation’s Puppy Department at 866-282-8046 or puppies(at)guidedog(dot)org, or visit http://www.puppy.GuideDog.org.

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