Leslie Shepard holding one of Southeastern Guide Dogs’ puppies.

By Laura Marzullo

For nearly 40 years, Southeastern Guide Dogs has been raising puppies to become successful service dogs. This program that it endeavors allows puppies to flourish and learn from their caretakers for roughly a year to a year and a half.

The 8 to 10-week-old puppies focus on “foundational skills it will need for a future career as a service dog,” said Leslie Shepard, director of Puppy Raising Services at Southeastern Guide Dogs.

‘Sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘come,’ ‘down’ and other cues are studied. These cues are extremely important when the dogs are in social situations, such as while having a gathering at a house, out on the street, at a restaurant, running errands or working. House manners and calm behavior are the raisers’ number one priority for the puppies.

Individuals can still be involved in the raising of the puppies without any prior knowledge of training.

“Raisers attend puppy kindergarten for the first six weeks and then twice-monthly meetings in their area led by a local volunteer area coordinator and our expert team of puppy training specialists,” stated Leslie.

Patience, willingness, time and a big heart is what the role of a puppy raiser consists of. Living near one of 40 puppy-raising groups is crucial—five are in Hillsborough County as well many others throughout the Bay area, the state and the Southeast.

Those who want to be around puppies but cannot become a puppy raiser can volunteer to be a puppy sitter or starter, whose role is to take a puppy out of the kennel in the short term until its long-term raiser is identified, as well as donate to the organization, which overall helps the operating costs.

A raiser not only makes a change in the puppy’s life, but also improves the life of oneself. The process of taking care of a puppy and watching it grow is extremely rewarding. Raisers feel fulfilled with delight when they realize they have made a difference in the community.

Not only are the raisers giving dogs all the skills needed to pursue in their potential career paths, they are “giving a light of hope to someone struggling with the darkness of vision loss or the effects of the trauma of combat,” said Leslie with passion.

For more information, go to Southeastern Guide Dogs’ fact sheet at www.guidedogs.org/puppy-raiser-checklist/.

To become a candidate of the program, go to the Raise a Puppy page at www.guidedogs.org.

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