Become a Volunteer Puppy Raiser and Help the Blind

By Jack Hayward

Companionship comes in many forms. Friends, family, social groups and even pets can provide the kind of support that only comes from being surrounded with love unlimited. From the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation’s perspective, one of the best companions is a furry, eight-week old German shepherd puppy. You can’t buy it; but Fidelco will provide you with one…for about 18 months.

As a Fidelco volunteer puppy raiser you’ll have the pleasure and the responsibility of introducing a Fidelco pup to the world. It will travel everywhere with you; to work, to the store, on walks around your neighborhood. In the process, your pup will learn about the sights, smells and enticements they will encounter as a Fidelco guide dog for someone with a visual disability.

Fidelco puppy raisers come from all walks of life and lifestyles. “We learned long ago that it didn’t matter what the personal situation was,” said Sally Keating, head of Fidelco’s volunteer puppy raising program. “What mattered was that the person could give our puppies the love and the experiences they would need to become well-adjusted guide dogs for people who are blind.”

Janis Jerman, a longtime Fidelco supporter and volunteer puppy raiser (five pups in eight years) returned “Daisy” to Fidelco in October to begin formal guide dog training. So when she speaks of companionship and the lack thereof, she speaks from the heart. “I’m single and I don’t have kids, so having another living being in the household makes a big difference,” she said. “For me, it’s hard coming home to a house that feels like it doesn’t have another heartbeat in it.”

If there was a Fidelco puppy raiser Hall of Fame, then Pam Bock would be its charter member. A professional dog trainer and currently raising “Helga,” puppy number 28, she is as enthusiastic about it as she was with puppy number one. And companionship is an important part of her volunteering for Fidelco. “It’s part of my life to have a dog to go places with; to help it learn new things and to learn from each other,” she said. “It’s a fabulous thing to see to this little puppy become a working dog. Each one of the pups has a place in my heart.”

While companionship is an important and enjoyable part of being a Fidelco puppy raiser, there’s also the reality that your efforts will have a meaningful impact on the life of a person with a visual disability. “I have pride in knowing that I’m doing something cool and interesting but that I’m also doing something good for someone else,” said Janis. “It’s also a great conversation starter!”

Pam agrees and says that when it comes to companionship and raising Fidelco puppies that go on to be guide dogs, “How could anyone be any happier doing what they’re doing?”

Fidelco puppy raisers are never alone. In addition to your four-legged family member, our experts are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions or to help in emergencies. You and your pup will also attend classes three Saturdays a month at the Fidelco campus in Bloomfield, Connecticut. These sessions allow the Fidelco staff to evaluate the pups as they grow and to give tips on basic obedience and socialization. You can also network with other puppy raisers with similarly-aged Fidelco pups. In short, you’ll become part of the Fidelco family.

When the time comes to part with your pup (yes, there will be tears) you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you have changed someone’s life for the better and helped give them the freedom and independence that so many of us take for granted. And, like Janis and Pam, you can take another adorable Fidelco puppy home with you!

We are always looking for new volunteers who want love unlimited from our puppies. For information, visit www.fidelco.org and click on “volunteer puppy raiser.” You can also e-mail us at puppyraisers@fidelco.org or call 860-243-5200.

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