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Photo Gallery: Career Dogs In Training

Volunteer raisers socialize and train dogs for service jobs

Guiding Eyes for the Blind has about 400-500 dogs, ranging in age from 8-weeks to 14-months old, being trained as guide dogs.

"How else can you have perpetual puppies?" said Avis Hull, of Colchester, who is raising her fourth dog for the organization.

The organization provides puppies to volunteers who raise and socialize the dogs for approximatey 14 months before they are returned to the organization ready to be trained.

"You know it's coming," said Janet Cody, of Old Lyme, of giving the dog back to the organization. "It's bittersweet but it's for a good cause."

Cody, who is raising her third dog for Guiding Eyes, has had Berta since the dog was 8-weeks-old. Cody said that training is "a slow but steady process." Berta, who is now 14-months-old, will soon be tested to see if she is eligible for the guide dog program.

"Not every dog is meant to be a guide dog," said Regional Manager Maria Dunne,  of the different temperments and aptitude of each puppy.

The dogs are socialized at home with the volunteers and attend training classes during the month where they learn obedience skills and commands while the raisers learn how to communicate effectively with the dogs.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind has a 60 percent graduation rate of dogs who go on as guide dogs, according to Dunne. If the dogs don't pass the test to be a guide dog, they may be suitable for a career in other service areas or as family pets.

Joanne Sulima, of Westerly, said one of the dogs she raised didn't pass the test but went on to become an explosives detective with the Connecticut State police.

"She's busy all day long," said Sulima. "And that's exactly what she needed to be."

Dunne said the volunteer raisers are not required to train the dogs to be highly skilled guide dogs but they are there to socialize the dogs and to teach them that "people are rewarding, people are fun." Dunne said the organization is always looking for volunteers willing to take in a puppy.

Cody said she brings Berta to fairs and festivals in order to introduce her to distractions and chaos.

"We work on her being very calm and focused," Cody said. "It doesn't feel like work."

To find out more about raising a puppy or to to see what it's all about, contact Jim and Val Hazlin, of Gales Ferry, at 860-464-6286.

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