Want to help raise a future guide dog? CNIB is looking for new recruits

·2 min read
The CNIB is looking for volunteer puppy raisers who can help train the next generation of guide dogs.  (Hannah Davison/Goodwolf Studio - image credit)
The CNIB is looking for volunteer puppy raisers who can help train the next generation of guide dogs. (Hannah Davison/Goodwolf Studio - image credit)

If you're patient, have lots of spare time and love puppies, the CNIB might have the perfect gig for you.

The national organization that supports Canadians who are blind or visually impaired is looking for volunteers to help raise the next generation of guide dogs.

"We are growing our program and trying to get as many guide dogs out there into the hands of Canadians who need them," Laura Kennedy, CNIB's puppy raising supervisor, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Wednesday.

Five Labrador retrievers have already arrived in Halifax and will spend the next 12-15 months living with foster families, and Kennedy said more puppies are expected soon.

The new arrivals from Ontario — Casey, Dorrie, Jet, Jorge and Trapper — are CNIB's first puppies to come to Halifax since the start of the pandemic.

Volunteer puppy raisers are expected to do basic obedience training and socialization with the animals, and also get them used to different environments, such as busy downtown streets.

"Just thinking where is a place where a guide dog would be going? And making sure that they're really happy to be there and focused on their handler and very obedient, so that's a really, really big part of what goes into the puppy-raising process," Kennedy said.

The pups get lots of playtime when they're off duty, she added, but the volunteers are told not to give them balls or Frisbees "because that could be a potential danger for their handler in the future."

Hannah Davison/Goodwolf Studio
Hannah Davison/Goodwolf Studio

Volunteers typically foster the dogs until they're a little over a year old. At that point, the dogs graduate to "canine campus" where the formal guide dog training begins.

Dan O'Brien, who is raising his third puppy for CNIB, is taking care of a pup named Casey. She's named in tribute of the late Capt. Jenn Casey, who died in May 2020 in a Canadian Forces Snowbirds crash.

O'Brien's daughter grew up with Casey and he lives in the same neighbourhood as her family.

"They were part of what they called the Highland Park crew, a group of girls that used to get together every year since junior high," he said. "It just seemed like a good fit. Jenn was also a very big animal lover and especially dog lover."

'She's a good girl, for sure'

O'Brien admits looking after a future guide dog is not always a walk in the park, but as a semi-retired graphic designer, he has the time and energy to devote to the task.

So far, it seems Casey the puppy is fitting right in with the family, he said.

"Casey's one of the smartest dogs from the get go that we've had," he said. "She's a good girl, for sure."

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