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Preparing Paige for a lifetime of service

Lou Travis is raising a puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - TEACHABLE MOMENT - Lou Travis constantly handles and touches Paige as part of her training.There is an adorable yellow Labrador retriever puppy wearing a green vest that is a common sight around King City as Lou Travis leads her guide-dog-in-training Paige through her paces.

Lou is raising and training Paige for Guide Dogs for the Blind, a national organization based in San Rafael, Calif., with a campus there as well as in Boring, Ore.

Puppies are placed with volunteer puppy raisers at about 8 weeks of age to learn good manners and social skills plus be exposed to a variety of environments. Puppy-raising families are located throughout eight Western states, according to the organization.

The puppies return to one of the Guide Dog campuses when they reach the age of 14 and 18 months to complete five more months of formal guide-work training with licensed trainers.

Lou said that her family never had a dog growing up, although they lived on a farm and had "outside" dogs. Her sons had a dog for a short time while growing up, but Lou didn't develop her first relationship with a dog until more than a decade ago when she took her son's dog Tabby after he could no longer keep her while serving in the military in Okinawa, Japan.

"I had my girl until she was three weeks shy of 14," said Lou, who keeps Tabby's ashes in the living room. "I had her 12 years until she had a diabetic seizure last December."

A year ago last March, Lou attended a Guide Dogs for the Blind graduation ceremony in Boring, during which the puppy raisers symbolically hand the dogs over to their permanent owners after the dogs have completed their training.

"I bawled my eyes out," Lou said. "It was really emotional."

After Tabby passed away, Lou realized her house was too quiet and got in touch with the Guide Dogs organization. She had to fill out an application and attend three meetings before being assigned a dog. Until the puppies are 5 months old, the puppy raisers attend weekly meetings; after that, there are monthly meetings and group outings.

Paige was born into the "P" litter Dec. 17, 2011, with all the dogs' names starting with that letter.

"It is kind of overwhelming at first," Lou said. "You wonder, what have I gotten myself into? We take them and hold them and love them, and then the basic training starts. We start with walking on a leash, socializing and sitting, and then do down, wait, stay and stand.

"As they get older, more things are introduced, and there are approved places to take them like county fairs but not places like dog parks or zoos. There is so much to do with these pups."

Once the dogs return to one of the two campuses, they go through eight levels of formal training, according to Lou, and then get assigned to a handler (the blind person), who comes to the campus for two weeks of training with their dog.

"After the graduation, off they go," Lou said. "The Guide Dogs organization is always available to help with questions and problems, and it provides veterinary care for the dog's working life. If the dog gets injured and can't work any more, the handler can keep it as a pet or offer it to a family member or the puppy raiser. Sometimes they can be cross-trained, such as a search-and-rescue dog."

So far, Paige has been to such places as Washington Square, Fred Meyer, Costco, Winco, church and to work with Lou, where she sleeps in her office.

"Guide Dogs breeds their dogs to be calm," Lou said. "Paige is just so precious. Look at this face - you have to love it!"

Guide Dogs for the Blind offers to the handlers the dogs, transportation, room and board, training costs, equipment and support services free of charge, and alumni receive lifetime scholarships so they can return for successor dogs.

The organization always welcomes donations and inquiries by potential volunteers. For more information, call 800-295-4050 or visit www.guidedogs.com.