Fostering guide dogs

Raising puppies for Pilot Dogs of Columbus, Ohio

I just adore puppies, but who wouldn't? I raise puppies for Pilot Dogs of Columbus, Ohio. It's my 4-H project and it's my pleasure!

Right now, I am raising my third puppy for Pilot Dogs. This puppy's name is Merit, and he is full of face-licking, tail-wagging energy. Merit is a black Labrador Retriever who was born on May 30, 1995. I picked him up at Pilot Dogs when he was just nine weeks old. I am raising him as an indoor pet; it is very important for him to learn to be part of a family. This includes rules such as "don't beg at the table"; "keep your nose out of the garbage can"; and "potty outdoors only."

I take Merit as many places as possible. He enjoys soccer practice, visits to the pet store, and walks on city sidewalks. He needs to be accustomed to riding in the car and exposure to a wide range of sights and sounds, including people of all ages.

I took Merit to basic obedience classes at the Clermont County Dog Training Club. When he is about a year old, I will return him to Pilot Dogs, where he will receive his formal guide dog training and be placed with a blind master as a working guide dog.

The first puppy I raised for Pilot Dogs is now a working guide. Pilot sent me a picture of him and his blind master upon their graduation. My second puppy, raised by my brother Kevin and I, has been returned to the organization for her formal training. We did basic obedience with both these puppies through the "Four on the Floor" 4-H club in Clermont County.

Pilot Dogs is a nonprofit corporation largely supported by Lions Club. There is no cost to the sightless person to train and receive a dog. Pilot trains six breeds of dogs: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Vizslas, and German Shepherds. About 40 percent of the puppy raisers are 4-H families. Volunteers from all around Ohio make up the other 60 percent of puppy raisers.

People often tell me they just couldn't "give a dog away" after loving it for a year. It's always hard for me to respond to this. I'll always have a place in my heart for each of the puppies I have raised, yet I know how much these dogs can contribute to the mobility and safety of a blind master. I know that family-raised dogs are better adapted to indoor living and for the amount of human contact a guide dog must have. By loving and training these puppies, I contribute to their success as a guide dog. I feel that I don't "just give a dog away"; I sure do miss them when I return them to Pilot, and there is no describing how proud I am of their success.

If you would like information on becoming a Pilot Dogs Inc. puppy raiser, call the organization at (614) 221-6367 or write them at 625 West Town Street, Columbus, OH 43215.

Kirsten Essex

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