Puppy Raiser Day: Our Dogs’ Favorite Day
On the second Saturday of each guide dog class and the second Monday of each service dog class, the puppy raisers of the new class of dogs arrive on campus for a reunion with the puppies they raised for over a year. It’s been about six months since they’ve seen the puppy, and since then, that young dog has been trained by professional trainers, matched with a visually impaired handler or a veteran, and is now helping the handler learn to navigate.The day before, the students read a short bio about the raisers. On this day, the raisers arrive on campus and as a group, the bios of the students are read aloud. As the raisers hear about the new confidence and freedom found by the students, tears often accompany the readings.
For the guide dog class, the puppy raisers then watch from a distance as the dog they love walk with the new handler on a short course. Seeing this dog work with skill and finesse is an amazing experience.
Puppy raisers then go back to the dining hall to wait, and then the new team joins them for a meal together. “As soon as the dog and student hit the door, the dog starts to smell someone familiar,” explains Leslie Shepard, Director of Puppy Raising Services. “The dog starts getting excited.”
The raiser says hello and then asks, “May I pet your dog?” The student removes the harness, “…and then the dog goes crazy,” she says. “He jumps and licks, and it’s just a wonderful reunion. The dog never forgets its raiser; it’s very emotional and very gratifying.”
After the enthusiastic greeting, the dog always settles back at the feet of its new handler. “I’ve experienced over 50 Puppy Raiser Days,” says Leslie, “and I’ve seen it every single time. The dogs know—they just know—yes, you loved me, but this person needs me.”
Leslie and many Southeastern Guide Dogs staff members believe that Puppy Raiser Day must be the dog’s favorite day. It’s a day when the dog is surrounded by the three people it loves the most, and the people who love the dog the most: the handler, the raiser, and the trainer. “We love it! It’s a glorious day,” she says.
Here’s a video we made last year about Puppy Raiser Day, before we moved in to our new Student Center. Take a look!