Photo by Chung Chow
Sarah Glen always wanted a dog.
“I had been begging for a dog since I was four-years-old,” she recalls. “Mom was never too keen on the idea but once we had the puppy, she fell in love with the whole aspect of raising puppies.”
From the time Glen was nine- or 10-years-old, her family became puppy raisers for dogs destined to become guide dogs.
Now grown up and working with the registered charity, BC and Alberta Guide Dogs,Glen helps others make dreams come true for people living with a host of challenges from blindness to autism to post-traumatic stress disorder.
BC and Alberta Guide Dogs is on a mission: they need puppy raisers who live in Richmond. The puppy raisers need to live close enough to attend the organization’s weekly obedience classes in Ladner.
Susie Ward has taken up the challenge as a volunteer puppy raiser five times.
“She’s feisty. She’s bitey. She’s so pretty,” Ward says with a big smile, petting Teagan’s ear as the 12-week-old romped at her feet.
“Doing this is a time consuming, 15-month commitment but is so worth the effort,” Ward says.
Kelsi Manton, who is now employed by BC and Alberta Guide Dogs as an apprentice guide dog instructor, started with the organization as a volunteer puppy raiser.
“What originally sparked my interest in puppy raising was that I have a family member who is blind,” she says, as she works with teenaged (in dog years) Mack, who is in his final training phase to become a guide dog for the blind.
Manton’s first puppy was a little eight-week-old black Labrador named Rufus.
Manton remembers when he was put in her arms for the first time: “That day was very exciting as I knew his journey to becoming a working dog was now in my hands. During the 15 months that I had him living with me, and accompanying me everywhere I went, I got very used to having a furry little friend by my side at all times and I loved it. At times it was busy, but most of the time it just made me smile knowing that one day he would change someone’s life.”
But what about giving up the puppy after over a year in your home?
“That’s a common question—the pain of giving it up,” Glen says.
“Usually with our puppy raisers, a lot of them really focus on how these dogs make such a difference for someone else. You have the dogs but you know they are meant for someone else. You don’t deny that you are going to be upset when you say goodbye to them but you are comforted that these amazing dogs are going to change someone’s life by what they do,” she says.
Manton says every time she turned one of these pups over to the advanced trainers, they took a little piece of her heart with them.
“You can’t take them into your home, love them and give them all you’ve got without becoming attached. However, it was definitely gratifying to follow them through their training and see what they eventually become.”
Manton remembers when Rufus graduated from her puppy raising.
“Once he was ready to move into advanced training, it was difficult to let him go. Although, simultaneously, it was a very inspiring day—almost like sending your little baby off to puppy university. I now have made guide dog training my career and couldn’t be more excited. Being a part of an organization that changes lives is incredible. There is really nothing like it.”
If you cannot raise a puppy, Glen suggests you can help a puppy raiser by setting up a regular monthly donation to the organization. Options start at $15 per month. It costs about $35,000 to raise, train and home a guide dog. The person receiving the guide dog is not charged.
According to the registered charity’s CEO, William (Bill) Thornton, BC and Alberta Guide Dogs survives on donations, individual gifts, support from foundations, and special events.
One of those special events is coming up May 11 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The Ties and Tails Auction and Gala features an evening of fine dining, inspiring speakers as well as an auction and raffle.
If you are interested in becoming a puppy raiser, contact the BC and Alberta Guide Dogs office in Ladner at (604) 940-4504 and ask for the puppy supervisor.
“It is recommended,” Glen says, “that you attend at least one obedience class and have a chance to talk with other puppy trainers about the time and commitment, and the ups and downs of raising a pup. The puppy supervisor will go through the program with you in more detail and conduct a home interview. If you are accepted, you will be put on our waiting list and will be informed when a pup is available.”
Ward says, as she holds Teagan in her arms, “I am always honoured to be allowed to give them the best start that I can.”
And how did Glen’s entire family feel about the five different puppies they raised?
“We loved it,” she says with a big smile.