You've probably seen a dog at the store or in a resturant helping someone who is visually impaired, but guide dogs start out just like any other puppy. These dogs are raised by normal people who are willing to devote extrordinary amounts of time to training these puppies to become guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired.
The organization is called Leader Dogs for the Blind, and they match a puppy with a volunteer puppy raiser. About a year later, the dog is ready to head out into the working world.
Theo, an 8 week old black lab, is a very special puppy. He was bred to do more than take naps, play with other dogs and beg for treats. He was bred to be the eyes of a visually impaired person. His puppy raiser, Maggie Stach, is responsible for getting him ready for all the things he may encounter as a leader dog.
"They go to work with me... sit in an office. They'll work an 8 hour day or do a 6 hour day in class back and forth. They go to restaraunts. They'll go on dates. They have to go to the bathroom with us... blind people have to go to the bathroom. So it's anywhere you can think of that you would go... we go with our dogs," said Stach.
Theo is Stach's seventh leader dog puppy, and though she says it is difficult to give them away, she finds comfort in knowing that they will make someone's life much easier.
"For us it's you want to give that dog back. Because you know what it's going to do for someone else. And you can see that difference that it makes in their life. and how much it means to them that you gave up a year of your life for someone you don't know."
Just a few years ago, Don Bowman got his second leader dog, a golden retriever named General. Before getting General, Don had another leader dog who joined him every day at his job at General Motors.
"I would say consider it a service project, a contribution that you're making to society. You're raising a child to get it ready to go to college and become a great success and do something positive for humanity. The people who have raised General have donated their services and their time to help someone like me be more independent," said Bowman.
From the breeder, to the puppy raiser, to the owner...there are many people who go in to training a leader dog. And for Don, "thank you" is a phrase that just does not seem good enough.
Leader Dogs for the Blind is recruiting puppy raisers. If you're interested in raising a dog you can call 888-777-5332. The organizaton also wants to remind people that leader dog services are free, and all you have to do is contact the organization to begin the process of getting a dog.