A national organization that supports people who are visually impaired or blind is searching for Halifax families who want to give a home to golden retriever and Labrador retriever puppies — but there's a catch.
The loving families will foster a puppy for 10 months to one year, but then return the animals to the CNIB. The puppies will then go into formal training to become guide dogs for the blind.
"It is a very difficult thing to give the puppy back," said Diane Bergeron, the executive director of strategic relations and engagement for the CNIB.
"You really need to think about the future of that dog and the purpose of it. It's going to some day become the eyes for someone who's blind, give them freedom and independence and safety in their community.
"Although it's difficult to say goodbye, you also become very proud of that dog, that they're going on to bigger and better things."
Socialization for puppies
The CNIB asks the foster families to focus on socializing the dog to different situations, such as busy streets, construction zones, crowds and loud noises.
The charity has never had a guide dog program before and is hoping to launch it in Toronto, Winnipeg and Halifax. Two puppies are being fostered in Toronto, and the first puppies are expected in Halifax by late 2017 or early 2018.
The puppy raisers will receive some training from the CNIB, along with monthly visits from a puppy raiser supervisor. The CNIB will pay for the costs of raising the puppies through program funding.
Bergeron has a guide dog and said it made an enormous difference in her life.
"My dog is everything," she said. "Before I had my dog I felt very isolated.
"I travel constantly and that dog gives me the ability to do that independently and with total freedom, and there is nothing like having a dog to get out there and feel independent."
'You can feel the love'
Shelley Adams, who works at the Halifax CNIB branch, has had her guide dog Pogo for four years. Before Pogo she had another dog, who is now retired.
"It's really amazing, the day that you get your dog," she said. "You're sitting in your room and you're just waiting for them to bring your dog to you. Both times that I got my dog, they just right came up and laid down and put their heads in my lap. Right away, you can feel the love."
Adams said both of her dogs have helped her gain confidence in things like going shopping and walking around the city.
"Just to know that this is my new partner, this is my new dog that's going to be keeping me safe and spending pretty much every minute of every day with me, it's pretty amazing to meet them for the first time," she said.
Adams said she has been able to keep in touch with the puppy raisers who fostered her dog.