For years volunteers from across Fairfax County, Arlington, Alexandria and McLean have gathered on Sunday afternoons at a Vienna church for their weekly puppy raising class. Since 1993, Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Dominion Puppy Raising Region has raised 470 puppies to become guide dogs for blind and visually impaired men and women around the world. As of Friday, Feb. 15, however, the group will be without a home.
The Dominion region volunteers, currently made up of 18 raiser/pup teams, are each given an 8-week-old Guiding Eyes pup to love, nurture, and educate for 12 to 16 months before they return a well-socialized young adult dog for formal guide dog training. Weekly puppy raising classes are run by Guiding Eyes’ regional manager to support raisers and their pups.
“Guide dogs aren’t born with the skills to keep a blind person safe; they are carefully trained and prepared for the job,” explained Carrie Barnett, Guiding Eyes’ Regional Puppy Program manager. “Since our raisers come from many different areas, we’re hoping to find a convenient, central location with easy highways access to minimize their travel.” Ideal towns include Vienna, Fairfax, Springfield, Arlington, Falls Church, Annandale and Oakton.
The raisers are in need of a large room without carpeting, preferably close to an outside exit and on the main floor. The location should be equipped with chairs, tables, bathrooms, outdoor waste receptacles and some parking. During class, pups and handlers work together mostly with a leash, but some off-leash work and pup play is also incorporated. An available staircase for pups and handlers to use would be beneficial, but isn’t a necessity.
“Each time I raise a puppy for Guiding Eyes it is such a gratifying journey,” says seven-time puppy raiser Janet Bartolotta of Alexandria. Bartolotta’s sixth pup, Adela, recently graduated alongside Matthew Brown, a seventh grade teacher from Queens, N.Y. “Seeing the young, affectionate, spirited pup I raised begin her journey with Matt—and witnessing firsthand the bond they had already begun to develop—was the best gift of all.”
Those interested in donating space are encouraged to contact Carrie Barnett at 410-960-7427 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Puppy Raising Program, please visit http://www.guidingeyes.org/volunteer/puppy-raising/. Meet the Dominion raisers online at http://www.gebdominion.org/.