Cute, cuddly and determined dogs are ready to make a difference.
For more than five years, the local Guide Dogs for the Blind group Puppy Pilots has found dedicated people to raise and train puppies for the blind and visually impaired.
Deb Cox, club leader, said since Puppy Pilots began local trainers and sitters have cared for 20 dogs, with four graduating from the national program.
She and other members are ramping up their recruitment with an informational meeting Tuesday, April 19, at the Sequim Library.
The general process for puppies is as follows:
Puppies come to homes at age 8-10 weeks for stays ranging from one year to 16 months. If successful, they’re sent to recall in Boring, Ore., a five-month, 10-phase program testing the dog’s awareness to complicated environments and circumstances.
Trainers can check their dog’s progress every week via e-mail. Once finished, dogs are matched with a blind partner who will live at the facility rent-free for up to four weeks while being trained to live with the dog.
Cox said one of the puppies that started with them and later moved to Vashon for additional training is about to graduate from recall.
The national graduation rate is about 60 percent, she said.
Miranda Robertson, a Sequim High School senior, said puppies might be at a slight disadvantage here. That’s why trainers and sitters go on outings to the airport, stores, buildings and generally where lots of things are happening.
Cox said local businesses are kind and respectful of trainers’ and dogs’ visits.
“A lot of the time, dogs live in a city. We have a tougher time because we live in a rural area and they might not get all the experiences needed,” Robertson said.
Behavioral and medical problems are most often the reasons a dog won’t graduate from the program.
Cox said it’s not unusual for a dog to split time between trainers.
She’s switching her dog, Vivian, a 7-month-old lab/golden retriever mix with Sherry Ewing’s dog, Gus, an 11-month-old lab.
Gus is Ewing’s first guide dog in training and she’s finding he can’t seem to break a bad habit — garbage mouth.
“He eats rocks,” Ewing said. “We’re switching to see if we can change some habits.”
Gus seems to be doing fine in other areas like walking with a trainer and meshing with other animals.
“We have five cats and they are all social, but not to the point where they sleep together at night,” Ewing joked. Diane Johnson, of Sequim, finds her 15-month-old black lab Onyx is a very sweet and gentle dog.
Her favorite part of training is watching his face.
“He looks happy and alert. He’s expectant,” Johnson said. “He looks like he’s saying, ‘Now what? Now what?’”
Onyx is on the verge of going to recall in May, but he must overcome being distracted.
Robertson has taken three different dogs in training to high school as a puppy sitter. Puppies stay a few days to a few weeks with sitters.
“It went great,” Robertson said about her school experiences. “It gets easier as it goes along. People used to wonder what was happening but now they are pretty used to it.”
A number of students have asked Robertson about signing up, she said.
“I’d love to have more young people,” Robertson said. “It’s volunteer hours. It’s fun and interesting.”
Right now, Robertson works part time at Greywolf Veterinary Hospital and dreams of becoming an animal trainer. She applied for an internship with Guide Dogs International in Boring. She’ll find out in early May if she’s in.
Robertson’s mother Barbara is in full support of her daughter’s puppy raising because training caught her eye as a girl, too.
“Just seeing the process … it’s like having a kid. You get to see how they are doing,” Barbara Robertson said.
Miranda Robertson got into training/sitting by accident. She met Cox on the ferry coming into Port Angeles from Victoria, British Columbia.
Johnson said she knew about guide dogs for years but her interest was piqued when she spotted a booth at the Sequim Open Aire Market.
Ewing discovered guide dogs in a newspaper article. She looked up Cox to get involved.
“I wouldn’t have given this experience up for anything,” Johnson said.
For more information, contact Deb Cox at 582-0560, email@example.com or visit www.puppypilots.org.