Success in the New Year can be measured in many ways. Some people resolve to lose weight, others to start regularly exercising. Some people are successful in following through on their resolutions, and many are not. But if you measure success as the love you will give and get from bringing a future guide dog into your home, then you are a candidate to be a Guiding Eyes for the Blind volunteer puppy raiser.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is looking for people who want to become part of something bigger than themselves. The renowned nonprofit guide dog school is actively recruiting puppy raisers – volunteers that take 8 week old puppies into their homes, love, nurture, and educate them, and send them off to their calling as a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired man or woman.
For a person without sight, a Guiding Eyes dog provides a life changing independence. Take Ricky Jones, of Nashville, TN, for example. Last October, Ricky was crossing the street using his white cane when he was hit by a car whose driver was speaking on the cell phone. Ricky was badly injured – his shoulder and ankle were broken and his MCL was torn.
Ricky returned home after a long hospital stay and intensive physical therapy. His injuries were discouraging; he was barely able to walk and did not have the strength to turn a doorknob. More disconcerting than his physical injury was his fear to travel outside his home. As he grew stronger and was able to walk longer distances, he became overwhelmed with anxiety. He would tremble at street corners, often praying that he would make it to the other side safely. Outings with his three-year-old child were out of the question; how could he look after his son when he himself had so much angst?
Ricky applied for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes in early 2009. He said that at that moment, he realized he needed to take control of his life, and to return to the normalcy he enjoyed before the accident. In June, Ricky was matched with Guiding Eyes Pearson. He remembers the hesitancy associated with picking up the harness, and how hard it was to let go of his fear. As Ricky and Pearson began to connect, the trepidation slowly faded away. The pair crossed an eight lane street while training in Manhattan, a feat that seemed impossible only a month before.
Ricky returned home to Nashville in early July to his job as a life skills instructor, to his volunteer position at the Tennessee Association for Blind Athletes, and to his family.
“When I got home, I went straight to the corner. A little nervous to say the least, but with Pearson it was only a little. Nothing like the fear just five weeks earlier. We step off and took the crossing with no problem – we even stomped on the sight where I was hit. When I got to the other side, I just sat at the bus bench – first to praise Pearson, and then to reflect on where I had been and where I was then. I am manly enough to admit that I cried. I swore at that place never to live in fear again. The best part was when my son hugged me and said, ‘now you’re not afraid, right daddy?’”
Guide dogs aren’t born with the skills to keep a blind person safe; they are carefully trained and prepared for the job. Guiding Eyes puppy raisers provide hours of patient teaching and numerous socialization journeys. For Anne and Cindy Lenault of Marlboro, MA, the hard work paid off when they met Ricky Jones and were reunited with Pearson, the puppy they lovingly raised.
Anne and Cindy admit that letting Pearson go was difficult, but they say it was more than worth it. “It is so wonderful to know that raising Pearson has made such a monumental difference in Ricky’s life. He certainly has left a huge impression on our hearts.”
The Guiding Eyes Puppy Raising Program is comprised of more than 400 volunteers from Maine to North Carolina. As Lee Nordin, the program’s director, says, “these caring, dedicated people are the ‘heart and soul’ of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.”
So this January, resolve to bring joy and love into your own home, and to give a puppy a chance at becoming the “eyes” of a blind person. Raise a puppy for Guiding Eyes; it will change your life, and make a profound difference in the life of a blind or visually impaired person. Call 1.866.GEB.LABS or visit us on the web at www.guidingeyes.org.