Guide dog training leads to scholarship
With help from her family, Jesuit alum trained six puppies for visually impaired
When Blaise Wittenauer-Lee pauses to consider what motivated her to train guide dogs for the visually impaired, it quickly becomes apparent that the vocation pretty much chose her.
The 19-year-olds great-grandfather was blind. She considers her own eyesight really bad. Blaises mother, Peggy, learned about guide dogs when a blind woman came to speak in her college class. Nancy Pruitt, a family friend, is involved with Sightmasters, a Washington County group devoted to raising guide dogs.
And of course, Blaise, a 2013 Jesuit High School graduate, has liked animals since she was a tyke.
Growing up, we always had pets, Blaise said from the kitchen of her familys Cedar Mill house. We had a dog, a golden retriever. Wed breed them and have a litter at the house.
The upshot of all those influences and motivation led to a legacy of six: Manny, Chantilly, Wanda, Alberta, Kiran and Delia. They are the guide dogs for the blind that Blaise, with the help of Peggy, her dad and her four siblings trained at home since she was 11 years old.
Raising (guide dogs) has been a fun way to have a dog, she admitted.
With Delia, the puppy she raised most recently, graduated and about to be paired with a full-time partner, and Blaise preparing to start next month at Seattle University, her dog-training ambitions are, for now, on hold. Her years of devotion, however, are not going unrecognized.
Guide Dogs for the Blind, the largest guide dog school in the United States, awarded Blaise a $600 scholarship for her scholastic achievements in high school and her commitment to community service. The San Rafael, Calif.-based guide dog school, which has a second campus nearby in Boring, recognized Blaise for providing the puppies a well-rounded, socialized and nurturing environment that will prepare them for future service to a visually impaired person.
The right fit
Blaise is one of four high school seniors to whom the organization granted scholarships this year. The teens are considered based on their volunteerism with Guide Dogs, how the experience has helped their personal development, as well as through recommendations from others.
Blaise wrote a three-page essay reflecting on her training experience, creating a video and photo montage in the process.
Basically, Ive been responsible for teaching the puppies good house manners and basic obedience, and most importantly, socializing them to the world, Blaise told Guide Dogs officials. Its so rewarding to know that Im helping a blind person get the most out of life while enjoying these sweet puppies while theyre growing up.
She enjoyed being able to catch up with her training experiences.
Thats probably my favorite part of it, she said on Monday. There are so many pictures. Its cool looking back on that. At the very end of my high school career, its really fun to see how far Ive come.
Blaise got her training feet wet through Pruitt and the nonprofit Sightmasters, which raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blinds Boring campus.
Nancy has raised 20-some guide dogs, she said. You go to meetings, meet families with guide dogs and puppy sit. Theres a puppy manual, a go-to guide. I got into it slowly.
Acclimating the dogs to modern life in all its forms is a big part of the process.
Our main goal as raisers is to get them experience with as many different situations out in the real world as possible, she said. We would take them everywhere: to church, the mall, swim meets, camping, so they could be pretty much ready for anything.
Although Blaise was in charge, the guide dog training was certainly a family affair. Mom would watch the dogs while I was at school, she said. On days she was at work, (the dog) went with dad at his job. Its just like a whole system we have.
Blaises mom, Peggy, a nurse practitioner at Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and a Spanish teacher at St. Pius X Catholic Church, said instilling discipline and focus is a key element.
A lot of it is helping the animal not to be distracted, to not be afraid of cars and sounds and picking food up off the floors, she noted. You get a lot of support from the club.
Sometimes the dog isnt ideally suited for the role, which requires qualities such as strong obedience and low distractibility. Her first puppy, Manny, became a career change puppy.
We raised him for four months, but he didnt really fit the mold of a guide dog, Blaise said. Hes living with a family in Aloha.
Lending a hand
Based on Blaises academic and extracurricular record, the six dogs she trained will be well prepared to assist their new companions.
A standout swimmer at Jesuit, Blaise received the Oregon School Activities Association Award of Excellence for high school swimming. Shes a member of the National Honor Society and worked for a womans shelter for her Christian Service Project at school. In addition to her Guide Dogs for the Blind award, Blaise earned academic as well as athletic scholarships at Seattle University, where she plans to study biology and follow a pre-medical school path.
Id like to become a doctor, she said. My interests may change, but thats what I feel right now. I want to continue helping people, especially with guide dogs. I learned I want to be involved with people and service. Pre-med, I hope can help me do that.
Guide dog training opportunities abound
Guide Dogs for the Blind provides enhanced mobility to qualified individuals through partnership with dogs whose unique skills are developed and nurtured by dedicated volunteers and a professional staff.
Headquartered in San Rafael, Calif., with a secondary campus in Boring, the school has graduated more than 12,500 teams since its founding in 1942.
With 900 puppies needing raiser homes every year, puppy raisers are a critical part of producing highly trained guide dogs, school officials said. Guide Dogs for the Blind offers a comprehensive puppy raising manual, organized training and socialization, as well as staff that offer problem solving solutions for the pups and their raisers.
To become a volunteer puppy raiser, contact Guide Dogs for the Blind by visiting guidedogs.com/site/PageServer or call the Boring campus at 503-668-2100.
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