by Michaela Gardner
Megan Krivsky and her one-year-old black Labrador Retriever Shadow are a special team. Shadow is a guide dog in training, and Megan is her “puppy raiser.” Megan and Shadow have an important job to help fulfill the Guide Dog Foundation’s mission “to improve the quality of life for people who are blind, have low vision or have other special needs.”
The Guide Dog Foundation was established in 1946 in Smithtown, NY with the goal of providing guide dogs to the blind and visually-impaired, free of charge. Students come to the foundation in order to learn training methods and to be paired with a dog that works best with them as an individual. The original training campus in Smithtown, which houses offices, residences for guide dog students, kennels, and a puppy nursery, is still used today.
The foundation is a 501(c)3 charity, therefore it operates solely on donations. More than $50,000 goes into breeding, raising and training a single guide dog. All guide dog candidates begin their training at eight weeks old when they are sent to live with a volunteer puppy raiser. Puppy raisers are responsible for basic socialization and obedience training, as well as exposing puppies to a wide range of stimuli and environments.
Guide dog puppies-in-training are a common sight on the University of Georgia campus, as well as downtown. When asked what got her interested in being a puppy raiser for the Guide Dog Foundation, Megan said that as a freshman, she saw the guide dog puppies around campus, which made her miss her own dog back home. She says she has stuck with it because “not only do you get to spend every day with an amazingly smart and cute dog, but you also get to give back to someone that truly needs that dog.” As a senior at UGA, Megan faces certain challenges in raising a guide dog puppy and managing schoolwork. She says on those days, the hardest part of the process is staying patient with Shadow, and Shadow remaining patient with her.
Patience was especially tested when Shadow first came into Megan’s life as an 8-week-old “sweet little puppy that [wasn’t] house trained and [knew] pretty much nothing.” Soon enough, however, a new routine was established, and Megan and Shadow became accustomed to going everywhere and doing everything together. For Megan, the sacrifices are worth it when Shadow masters a new command, or when the pair are out in public and people don’t even notice Shadow’s presence at first. “That is seriously one of the best compliments ever because it means she is behaving perfectly, and all of our hard work is paying off,” Megan says.
Don’t worry, it’s not all work and no play for Shadow. Megan recalls her favorite memory with Shadow to be the first time they went to the beach together. After having to learn the hard way that sand and salt water are not, in fact, edible, Shadow had the time of her life splashing through the waves and “running to her heart’s content on the beach.”
If you’re interested in helping the Guide Dog Foundation but don’t think you can commit to raising a puppy for up to 18 months, there are other options. Megan says that if there’s one thing she would like people to know about the Guide Dog Foundation, it’s that “anyone can be involved. There are many facets of the program that people of varying schedules and lifestyles can join. It won’t be easy, but I 100 percent promise you it is worth it!”
There are more ways to help the Guide Dog Foundation other than volunteering to raise a puppy—you can donate money, help set up fundraisers or toy drives, and even volunteer at the Guide Dog kennels. Visit www.guidedog.org for more information!