Wanted: Foster Homes for Future Guide Dogs
Jessie Thornton of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind spoke with the CBC’s Alan Neal about how the organization trains its dogs. The process includes getting the dogs ready to live with the foster parents who will help complete their training. 1:24
Puppies born in rural Ottawa need to be socialized for 12-18 months
A clumsy swirl of black lab and golden retriever puppies skitter across the wooden floors of their temporary home in rural Ottawa. It might not look like it right now, but these pups are destined for a life of service.
The Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, which bred the puppies at the canine development centre in Manotick, are looking for foster homes for each of the three-month-olds before their formal training.
“It’s a 12- to 18-month commitment,” said Jessie Thornton, who helps train and care for the puppies inside the organization’s wide, brick home.
While they wait for foster families to take them away, the little pups spend their days playing and training.
They are taught basic skills such as where to go to the bathroom and also get used to different kinds of floors and surfaces.
“They are kind of like toddlers,” Thornton said.
Could you be a foster owner?
Volunteer foster owners help raise a puppy by teaching it basic obedience and socialization before the pup enters formal guide dog training.
The owner, who must live in the Ottawa area, is expected to take the puppy everywhere with them, whether they go to work, the grocery store, the movies or even to dinner.
“A huge part of [the] socialization aspect is going out and just living your average, everyday life,” Thornton said.
“[It’s] to help prepare them for what they are going to go on to do.”
An inevitable separation
After its time at the foster home, the dog is then taken away to train formally at the national training centre.
It takes almost two years from its birth before a puppy can be considered a fully-trained guide dog.
Sometimes, after owners have spent countless hours with their furry companion, the separation between the foster owner and puppy can be difficult, Thornton said.
“But you do have in the back of your mind what they are going to go on to to do, [that they are] really helping somebody have their independence,” she said.
“It’s very easy to not be selfish about it.”
She said seeing the puppy grow up to be a guide dog and help someone become more independent is “very rewarding.”
Puppies don’t all turn out
Not all puppies make the cut to become a guide dog, sometimes because they are too mellow or they can be easily spooked.
These dogs end up having a “career change” and are given to new owners.
There is a waiting list of people who want to take these puppies, Thornton said.
“A good guide dog is a dog that’s adaptable, confident and really willing to … form a partnership with somebody,” she said.
“Some of them just let us know that it’s not for them.”
Around 70 per cent of the puppies that are bred and raised by the organization do end up become guide dogs, she said, which is helpful because many people in the province are waiting for one.
“There are people losing their sight every day or [are] suffering from visual impairment everyday, so there is a constant demand.”