Sunday, July 01, 2007

Puppy to be trained to become a guide-dog!

Despite the heartache it will eventually cause, Kelly Burdumy has made an 18-month commitment to raise and train a creature that she will give away to someone she has never met.Kelly, 17, a Ridgefield resident, and her mother, Becky, have spent the last half-year raising Emerson, an 8-month-old black Labrador retriever they hope will be placed with a visually impaired person in the United States or Canada.

The two are volunteer puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes For the Blind, a New York-based nonprofit that provides trained Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds for visually impaired people.Usually puppies about 6 weeks old - vaccinated but not housebroken - are given to volunteers. Puppy raisers are asked to buy food and basic supplies, which are tax-deductible, and Guiding Eyes pays for medical care and training.

"It's like having a kid," Kelly said. "You have to spend so much time walking him and ensuring he's in a positive environment."A raiser must socialize the puppy with activities such as taking it along while picking up children from school, and taking trips to the supermarket and the mall. Raisers in this region are required to attend class on the first and third Thursdays of the month in Westport.

"One of our main jobs is allowing him to experience everywhere we go," Kelly said. "When he's with the blind person, he has to be calm in all public places."Emerson is not the first Guiding Eyes dog to join the Burdumy household."This is the second dog we worked with," Kelly said. "My brother, Matt, was the first to get into it. He and my mom did it last year with George, a black and tan Labrador, who is now in Canada."Gretchen Pierce, regional manager of the puppy program, said the dogs complete a full circle in training.

"We breed the dogs, and then they go to the volunteer puppy raisers before coming back here, where they go through harness training," Pierce said. "The raiser teaches it basic obedience, plays games with it and gets it out for socialization. I think that's part of the difference between working with Guiding Eyes and raising a dog. Our pups need to get used to the world outside and develop a sort of been-there, done-that mentality."Kate Petreycik Scott of Ridgefield said she enjoys raising the pups."It's addicting," she said.

"Once you start doing it, you see these dogs progress and begin to see their full potential."Petreycik Scott said understanding how the dogs will help blind and visually impaired people makes it easier to give them up."I can't even tell you how much it hurts, but it's worth it," she said. "Every month or so, their trainer will send you reports and you start to see how they progress. It's very rewarding and fulfilling. It's an experience beyond words.

"Six puppies are now being raised in southwestern Connecticut, Pierce said."It's really about a partnership between the blind individual and the dog," she said. "What the dog actually does is lead somebody around the obstacle or safely guide the person through a crowd of people."After training is complete, the dog meets its partner."The graduating class comes from all different regions, from Maine to North Carolina," Petreycik Scott said.

"Everyone is so proud of their dog and happy with where they will be going. You get to meet with their new partner and exchange contact information, if you want."Generally a dog is given to a visually impaired person when it is 2 to 2-1/2 years old. Dogs usually work for five to nine years before retiring. After that, they usually become a household pet for the blind person or the puppy raiser.- For information about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, call the region leader, Cora Martin, at 834-0069.


Post a Comment

<< Home