December 15, 2014 - 10:04am --

submitted by Natalie Kritzer, 4-H Clover Crusaders

Last year was my first year to take a dog project and participate in the 4-H dog show.  I raised my first puppy for Pilot Dogs and entered her into the Assistance Dogs class at the show. Pilot Dogs is a non-profit organization located in Columbus, OH that furnishes guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, totally free of cost.  The program begins with its dogs as puppies and puts them through 3 stages of training:

  1. Puppy Raising.  The puppy grows up in the home of a volunteer, much like a pet dog would.  The puppy goes through an obedience course with its raiser and must become accustomed to many different sights, sounds, people, and places.
  2. Formal Training.  The puppy returns to Pilot Dogs around 1 year of age, and begins the 5-6 month long process of formal training.  The dog is taught new commands that will help it to lead its future master, and goes through a rigorous training and evaluation process.  If the dog passes, it will go on to stage 3.  Otherwise, it will return to its breeder or become a pet for someone.  
  3. Training the Team.  This is the final stage of training, in which the dog is matched with its new blind or visually impaired master.  The dog and master spend 4 weeks at the Pilot Dogs facility training and learning to work together as a team.  When the training is completed, the dog will go home with its new master.

Pilot Dogs is always in need of volunteer puppy-raisers to foster the puppies for their first year of life.  Puppy-raisers really are the backbone of their organization!  Pilot provides the pup and training supplies and reimburses for vet care; they just ask that puppy-raisers assume the cost of dog food.  This is an excellent service opportunity and also a way to experience raising a puppy without the usual cost or commitment.

Guide dogs give mobility and independence to blind individuals who otherwise are forced to rely on others for the simplest of tasks.  Many of the blind students who receive Pilot Dogs have experienced sight; when they loose their vision, they suddenly cannot do the things we take for granted: commuting to work, going for a trip to the store or to church, taking a vacation, etc.  

Members who are interested in puppy-raising can contact Pilot Dogs for further information.  They have a litter of Labrador Retrievers and another of Standard Poodles coming in within the next couple of months.  Puppies from those litters will be old enough to participate at the 4-H dog show.

I will be puppy-raising for Pilot Dogs again this year, along with another member of my club.  I am hoping to encourage others to consider the project as well.  I want to raise awareness for the Pilot Dogs program and its need of puppy-raisers.