Southeastern Guide Dogs “Raise a Puppy” program

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Southeastern Guide Dogs “Raise a Puppy” program

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By: Kaitlyn Schafer, Editorials, Features, and Reviews Editor

When veterans lose hope due to wartime difficulties, life becomes hard to handle. When people lose or are born without vision, a service dog may be needed for daily activities. It is because of these human needs and hardships that the Southeastern Guide Dogs was created.

The Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida develop not only partnerships, but friendships between their dogs and the people who need them. They work the most advanced training facilities of any service dog organization and hire the most talented trainers in the world, according to their website. Southeastern Guide Dogs is a nonprofit organization that provides their dogs to visually impaired people and veterans at no charge, without government funds.

For the dogs who are not trained by professional trainers, they are trained by applicants of the “Raise a Puppy” program. As a puppy raiser, loving families can take Southeastern Guide Dog puppy home for just a little bit over a year. This helps the puppy learn basic obedience and good house manners before they are sent off with their forever person.

Zoe Van Beek’s dog, Lulu. Photo credit: Zoe Van Beek

“The one question I always get asked is ‘How could you give up your puppy?’ It was very difficult, but I knew that as much as I wanted the puppy, someone else needed the puppy. After I see my dog walk off with the person they intend to help, I know that everything I have been doing will be worth it and for a great cause,” stated Zoe Van Beek, a junior at Manatee.

For people under the age of 18, they can volunteer for the program as a co-raiser as long as they have an adult over 18 as the primary-raiser. No dog-training experience is needed to participate in this program, the volunteers are required to take their puppies to Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto twice every month to help the participants with basic training in being a guide dog. They must also attend Puppy Kindergarten, which is once a week event for the first six weeks of training. Southeastern Guide Dogs also provides the volunteers with a handbook on what to do to train their puppy correctly.

Many people may not think they have what it takes to raise a future guide dog, however, those are the people who normally sign up. Singles, families, working professionals and college students have all participated in the “Raise a Puppy” program. Guide dogs in training have the same rights as certified guide dogs in the sense where they can be taken into most establishments. With permission, primary raisers and co-raisers may be able to take them to work or school.

“I think this program is a great idea and I would love to participate, however, my family travels a lot which I thought would be a problem. But I found that traveling would actually help the puppy to experience airplanes and long trips when they are guiding their forever person,” stated Laura Ottaviani, an interested participant in the program.

If families have other animals in the house like other dogs or cats, then that is totally fine. The workers at Southeastern Guide Dogs make sure to match their puppies up with the perfect family for them.

For students interested at Manatee High School or any other school in Florida, raising a puppy is a fine way to help earn community service hours and build an impressive resume. This will let colleges know that students were willing to take on the responsibility of taking care if a future service dog. This program is only available in seven states in the United States, making it a unique program that not all people are able to participate in.

So for anyone interested in this, applications are always available year-round.