By LOIS KINDLE
Southeastern Guide Dogs has launched a new, volunteer puppy-raising program, which it hopes will encourage more people to host a puppy in their home for increments of three, six or 12 months.
Puppy raisers give a future super hero lots of love, provide it with food, water and a safe environment, teach it basic socialization skills and build its self-confidence. It’s all in preparation for the puppy’s formal education at Canine University, where it will be trained to serve as a guide dog, service dog or skilled companion dog.
“Puppy raising is very special,” said Leslie Shephard, Southeastern Guide Dogs director of puppy raising services. “It’s a truly selfless act of love for someone else.”
The new program provides more flexibility for folks who’d like to volunteer but may not have the availability to participate for the first 12 to 14 months of a puppy’s life. This makes the rewarding role of raising an SEGD puppy easier than ever.
“Southeastern Guide Dogs will work with your availability,” Shephard said.
Puppy raisers play a foundational role in a puppy’s life by helping build its self-confidence. And it’s a fun way to make a difference in the world.
“We know from the beginning they aren’t our dogs,” said Apollo Beach resident Chris O’Leary, who has raised puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs for 26 years. “We’re raising them for someone else, someone whose life they will forever change for the better.
“Raising a Southeastern Guide Dogs puppy is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had,” he continued. “I’m lucky I found something to do as a volunteer where I can actually see the end result.”
Sun City Center resident Julian Johnson raised his first puppy, a Goldador named Leon, last year. The pup went on to become a skilled companion dog for two young, visually impaired boys.
“Seeing a puppy who’s new to the world grow into a well-behaved dog who’s responsive to its owner is very rewarding,” Johnson said. “And knowing it’s going to help someone who truly needs it is 10 times better.”
All puppy raisers get a free kit, which includes a crate, puppy leash and collar, stainless water bowl, toothbrush and toothpaste, branded treat bag, puppy drool towel, garden flag and puppy-raiser shirt, plus one free, bag of treats, five-pound bag of dog food and a coupon for the first 33 lb. bag.
They also receive free monthly heartworm and parasite preventatives, veterinary care and access to a local puppy-raising club, which provides support and opportunities to participate in group outings and gatherings.
Sun City Center resident Sue Croley, who’s been associated with Southeastern Guide Dogs since 2004, leads the South Shore Puppy Raisers Club. She and her husband, Bob Minthorn, will be getting their 15th puppy to raise in November.
The couple adopted Ruth, the sixth puppy they raised, after she was released for the guide/service dog program. They had her certified at age 2 a therapy dog through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and as an ambassador for SEGD until she was 10. Ruth visited hospitals, a juvenile detention center in Manatee County, assisted living residences and other facilities.
“We enjoy puppy raising,” Croley said. “I actually thank Southeastern Guide Dogs for the opportunity to do it.”
She called the new puppy raising program “a great opportunity to see what puppy raising is all about without having to make a 12- to 14-month commitment.
“You know these dogs are born for a purpose, and there are so many people who need them,” she continued, adding she tells the puppies she raises every day while they’re with her, ‘I love you, but you’re not mine. You’re going to go do something great for someone who needs you someday.’”
Interested? Southeastern Guide Dogs will host information sessions on becoming a puppy raiser Sept. 16, Oct. 14, and Dec. 9 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus, 4210 77th Street E, Palmetto. You can also get more information and apply online at https://www.guidedogs.org/get-involved/raise-a-puppy/.