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Training dogs to serve

Newberg resident raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, nearing fourth graduate


When Anne King retired a few years ago, her friend was excited for her. Not because she was retired, but because now she could join her in raising guide dog puppies.

“(Nancy Prewitt) is the leader of the Sightmasters club, she has raised 23 puppies,” King said. “I’m currently on my fourth, Clementine.”by: GARY ALLEN - Nearing graduation -- Anne King poses with Clementine, the fourth puppy she has raised as part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind program.

Clementine joined her family in January and is almost ready for the next step. The last puppy she raised, Wente, recently graduated the Guide Dogs for the Blind program and is now guiding in Florida.

“We prepare the dog to lead a more productive life,” she said. “We take them everywhere, the grocery store, the dentist, to the movies (for the environment).”

But not just anyone can start raising puppies for the program, she said. It took her two months before she was certified and the process could begin.

“Then the house has to be approved as safe for the puppy and ensure everyone is committed to raising the puppy,” King said. “(We have to) understand the guide dog philosophy and know the goals. Raisers train for social skills, good host behavior, going to stores, but they don’t want us to train because they have professional trainers, but I have to know how to get them to there.”

She said many people don’t qualify because they are either too high strung or too laid back.

“You commit over a year to these dogs, but there are a lot of different stages,” she said. “Some people may only want little puppies. We’ll start and then give them to someone else who maybe can’t (start with) a puppy.”

Raisers get their puppies at about eight weeks old and spend the next year or so working with them until they are ready for the next step in the program.

“When recalled (moved from the puppy raisers to professional training), Guide Dog takes over. They do a checkup and evaluation to decide if they can move on to the next step,” she said.

If the answer is yes, the rest of their training begins, about two months.

If not, there are a few options.

“Some time they decide (the puppies) have different interests, not all become guide dogs,” King said. “Maybe they have a medical reason or their personality (isn’t right). (So they have a) career change, which is kind of a nice way of saying that didn’t make it.”

So the puppies might go to search and rescue, Dogs for Diabetes or become a companion pet. If none of these options fit, they are put up for adoption.by: GARY ALLEN - Willing to learn -- Anne King demonstrates techniques she uses to teach Clementine.

For those who make the cut, King said a blind person will fill out an application which asks questions like, “What is your energy level?” to ensure the dogs are matched with the right people.

“We don’t want to give a quiet dog to someone who likes to jog a lot; they need to match up,” she said.

But once they do, she said they bond instantly.

“I love to volunteer, I love animals and (I love) knowing I can see the results,” King said. “Some people volunteer but don’t get to see the result. At a food bank you can sort all the food you want but don’t get to see where it’s going. I see how it’s helping someone.”

She added that she and her husband plan to continue raising puppies for the program for the foreseeable future.

“My husband and I decided we didn’t want any more personal dogs. It’s too hard to let go at the end,” she said. “Knowing these dogs trot off happy at 15 months, it’s really satisfying to us.”

For more information about the local program, visit www.sightmasters.org.



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