Dogs may be stereotypically known as man’s best friend, but one organization is doing its best to make them live up to that phrase.
Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers, an organization that trains dogs for the blind, wants its dogs to be more than house pets, they want them to make a difference.
The club is present in multiple states and has nine branches in Texas.
The process of training dogs to lead humans around is not an easy one, but it is the puppy raisers who volunteer to take on the task.
Puppy raisers are the human handlers who get the dogs acclimated to the environment and prepare them for formal training, which lasts up to 12 weeks.
Becky Clark, leader of the Fort Worth branch, took the dogs out to Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford last Saturday so the dogs could get used to walking on a variety of surfaces such as gravel, grass and sidewalks.
Once the dogs are evaluated and considered ready for formal training, they are either sent to San Rafael in California or Boring, Oregon.
Upon completion of training, the puppy raisers are invited to the graduation and can meet with the dogs’ future handler.
“It encompasses so many things ... in the end it gives back to somebody who is blind,” Clark said
The puppy raisers usually get their furry companion when they are 8 weeks old and raise them up to 15 months.
During this acclimation period, they get used to human commands, being around a variety of surroundings and walking in different conditions.
“We use positive reinforcement,” Clark said. “That’s the best way to learn.”
Clark describes raising the dogs then seeing them graduate as a touching experience.
“It’s just an incredible feeling,” she said. “I get emotional just thinking about it.”
Michael White, a Weatherford resident, is a volunteer puppy raiser and enjoys the moments he has with Judith, a black Labrador retriever.
Having met his wife, Angie White, 16 years ago, White experienced the usefulness of a trained canine when his wife got a change-of-career dog, which is a dog that can no longer qualify as a guide dog for the severely blind.
The dog, named Justus, was a Flat-Coated retriever with hip dysplasia and assisted his wife who was legally blind from a childhood accident that left her vision significantly reduced.
When White and his wife decided to be puppy raisers, and they got Judith at 8 weeks old, White took one look at Judith and knew he had made the right decision.
“It’s the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen,” White said, when speaking of the puppy.
The biggest achievement White is proud of is the way that Judith navigates around people with discipline.
As a test he took her to the Texas State Fair recently and said she performed well.
Judith remained extremely calm,” he said.
At almost 14 months, White is nearing the evaluation point for his first dog.
“It’s really sad to see her go,” White said.
Clark doesn’t doubt the amount of time she’s put into the job.
“It’s a 24/7 job,” she said. “It takes a lot of commitment.”
To learn more about guide dogs, go to http://www.lonestarguidedograisers.com/.