Have you ever considered raising a Guide Dog puppy? It’s a 12-month commitment that requires responsibility, patience and lots of love. But your efforts could transform the life of someone who’s vision impaired.
The joys of raising a Guide Dog puppy
Melbourne-based Angela Cartledge is a part-time nurse and mother of three. She’s also a four-time puppy raiser and says raising Guide Dog pups has become her passion. She became good friends with the woman who received their second puppy, Scotty.
“Raising puppies for Guide Dogs Victoria has completely changed my life,” she says. “I see the job Scotty does and the change he’s had on my friend’s life.”
Angela says the most common question people ask is how she and her family cope when it’s time to give the puppy up. She tells them, “it’s a day of tears, tissues and dark glasses and not something that gets easier.”
But she sees it like a rainbow. “On one side is the day you take the puppy back and it’s very emotional, because you can’t help but fall in love with your pup. But five months later, if that pup makes it through training, you get to see your dog working in harness with the trainer… and it just blows your mind away. That is the other side of the rainbow—I felt overwhelming pride and joy and love for that dog.
“And then to meet the person who gets him and see how it’s changed her life…she said to me, ‘Angela, you cried the day you got the call that Scotty has to come back, but I cried because I was finally getting my dog, my eyes’. The joy of that is pretty special,” says Angela.
What’s involved in raising a puppy?
While the pride of raising a dog that changes someone’s life is amazing, Angela notes that you need to do the work. The puppies are usually about eight weeks old when you start, which means teaching them everything.
“It’s no different to a baby,” she laughs. “They don’t even know what a blade of grass is. Some of them will jump back at a dandelion when they first see one because it’s just like ‘woah, what is that?’”
She explains that the first few weeks are intense. The puppies might need toileting every 15 minutes while they’re awake and some will wake in the night, so be prepared for disturbed sleep.
They need lots of love and physical handling because touch is the only way a vision-impaired person can check their dog, she says. “They have to get used to having their eyes, ears and whole body touched and having fingers in their mouth.”
At 16 weeks, they get their Guide Dog coat and you can start taking them to places like shops or the gym. Angela says training progresses slowly so the dogs don’t get frightened.
She adds that each one is different. “Some have lots of energy; others are really placid and can be a bit nervous and anxious, so you’re adapting all the time to what sort of puppy you’ve got.”
You’ll be teaching them things like how to walk on a lead, catch a train and navigate through shops. You’re exposing the puppy to different sights, sounds and smells before they go to their new owners, so they won’t be taken by surprise in different environments.
What support is available?
Angela emphasises that you’ll get lots of support. “You have an adviser who works with you from the first day. They teach you how to train the puppy and deal with any issues.”
If you’re a first-timer you’ll have your puppy delivered by a seasoned raiser who’ll talk you through getting started. There’s also a supportive community of puppy raisers who meet for training and sharing tips.
“The puppy’s food and vet bills are paid for, and you are expected to provide bedding and toys,” Angela explains.
Tips for anyone thinking about puppy-raising
If you think raising a Guide Dog puppy could be for your family, Angela recommends:
- Go in with your eyes open—sometimes puppies get returned because people didn’t expect the sleep disturbance and accidents on the floor. Be prepared for this in the early stage. However, just as with a baby, it does end!
- Be committed—you can’t leave a Guide Dog puppy alone for more than three hours per day, so you need to factor this into your schedule. You also need to do the required training, from basics such as toilet-training through to more advanced exercises like negotiating shopping centres.
For Angela Cartledge, it’s totally worth it. She’s just taken delivery of her fourth adorable little puppy that she will help prepare for life as a Guide Dog.
“Be prepared to be put out a bit initially,”she says. “The love you get back and the joy just outweighs everything.”
Editor’s update: Angela’s black puppy ‘June’ recently had a play-date with the other Guide Dog puppies the Cartledge family has raised.
Editor’s update November 2020: Guide Dogs Victoria puppy number 5 has arrived in Angela’s household. Sue is already spreading her puppy magic around the neighbourhood!