Guide Dogs for the Blind Goes to School
This week I ran across an article in the Everett Herald about a Washington student from the area that raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind on campus.
Last year 19-year-old Chandler Fish raised Apricot, a yellow Labrador Retriever placed with a woman in British Columbia. This year, she’ll work with a black Lab puppy named Jalina.
“The number-one thing we do is socialization,” Chandler Fish told the Herald. “At four or five months old, it’s going out to places. At school, they sit in class and sleep. In restaurants, having them with us gets them used to being a working dog,” she said.
Chandler raises the puppies through a puppy-raising group on campus called Guiding Paws.
Founded by WSU students Liz Morley and Morina Pierce, Guiding Paws’ mission is “to socialize and train puppies in preparation for their formal training with Guide Dogs for the Blind.”
Currently the group has 12 puppy raisers, 10 puppies, 15 approved sitters, and several newer members working towards becoming sitters/raisers.
Convincing the Bureaucracy
Getting approval for any new program at a university/college generally is a daunting journey through a complicated bureaucratic maze. Liz told me that it was “a long process as there was no prior precedent for us to go off of.”
The pair started off by giving multiple presentations to the risk management board of the university. They assure the board they had plans in place to avoid/deal with any issues that might arise. They also had to convince the board to grant waivers to WAC section 504-36-020, which prohibits animals in university buildings.
They then put together a proposal that included their requirements for membership, a club constitution, and letters of recommendation regarding their leadership/training abilities.
They had to create stricter membership requirements than Guide Dogs for the Blind typically recommends to reassure the university that members had adequate training and preparation prior to being allowed to handle puppies unsupervised on campus.
In addition, all approved handlers and puppies wear badges stating that they can bring a service dog in training into university buildings and classes.
They also agreed to assist the Office for Equal Opportunity with general education about service dogs. Each club member gives a short presentation at the beginning of each class on the first day they bring their puppy.
Balancing Training and Studying
I assumed that the students would have trouble balancing their studies with raising and training a puppy to be a guide dog. However, Liz said it wasn’t that difficult because most of the training was “on the go.”
“It doesn’t take a significant amount of time out out our normal day,” she told me. “For
example, when I am waiting in line at a grocery store, I can work on “puppy push-ups” (practicing basic commands, such as sit, down, and stand). Also, the puppies are always learning—something as simple as sitting in class is teaching the puppy to remain relaxed and settled under my desk for the duration of the class.”
Since Guiding Paws got its first group of 6 puppies in April, 2014. 24 puppies have gone through its program, and:
- 2 have graduated as working guide dogs
- 2 are currently in formal training to become working guide dogs (they will hopefully be graduating this winter!)
- 1 will be graduating with a different service dog organization (Joys of Living Assistance Dogs) in November.
- 4 didn’t graduate for medical reasons
- 4 didn’t graduate for behavioral reasons
- 1 transferred for medical reasons
The remaining 10 puppies are currently in training.
The work Liz and Morina to put this program into place at WSU is remarkable.
When I was in college a zillion years ago, I certainly didn’t have the initiative, energy, and commitment to start and oversee a program like this.
So far, a handful of colleges in the US have approved programs to allow students to raise guide dogs. WSU is the only one in Washington that does it.
Hopefully, the work Guiding Paws has done will pave the way for other students to organize similar clubs on their campuses.
How about it UW?
To learn more about Guiding Paws and Guide Dogs for the blind, click on these links: