ELLENTON, Fla. -- The road to being a guide dog or service dog is a long one, but before they are matched with their "forever person" volunteers called "Puppy Raisers" help lay the ground work.
Southeastern Guide Dogs needs around 300 puppy raisers each year but there's a critical shortage thanks to a spike in puppy love!
Laura Zellner has a passion for dogs, and that’s why she volunteers as a puppy raiser.
Subie is Laura’s 12th puppy with Southeastern Guide Dogs.
“To know you can take a puppy home love and raise them for somebody who needs that dog…Why not do it?! Be that blessing for somebody else that’s the driving force for me,” says Laura.
The puppy goes home with its puppy raiser at 10 to 12 weeks old for a year.
Laura says, “Our biggest job as puppy raisers is to teach basic obedience, home manners and greeting people.”
But without the puppy raiser these dogs won’t be ready for the next step job training to be either guide dogs or service dogs.
"Then the trainer takes the puppy. We’ve laid the foundation and they build on that foundation,” explains Laura.
Thanks to a spike in puppy births, 40 puppies set to be ready by mid-December don’t have a puppy raiser.
Laura says the job doesn’t pay much. She says, “It requires one thing…love…just love!”
And you don’t need to be a professional dog trainer. Southeastern Guide Dogs teaches you the skills you need and there’s a support system.
If you are not ready to be a full time puppy raiser, you can try co-raising with a friend or be a puppy sitter…and help these little guys help someone else.
When the puppy is returned after a year, they go through more intense training and are matched with their “forever person.”
“When you meet the person who needs the puppy and they open up their arms when they first met you with tears running down their face, saying thank you…it’s like yes," she said. "This is why I do it, this is why we all do it as puppy raisers to give back. It’s absolutely the best volunteer job you’ll ever have.”
The process of becoming a puppy raiser takes about 6 weeks just in time for 40 puppies to be ready to start their basic training.
To be learn more about being a puppy raiser go to www.guidedogs.org and click on raise a puppy.
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