A Puppy Raiser's Role in Educating the Public
A puppy raiser's job is not just fostering a puppy, but being an ambassador for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). This means educating the public about guide dogs and puppy raising and promoting inclusion and accessibility for those who are visually impaired or blind. Kate Shipp, a high school Junior and a puppy raiser in Bellingham, Washington, emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about GDB.
Kate received her second puppy, Marlow, two months ago but her puppy raising journey began in March of 2019 with a yellow Lab named Zeus, who recently graduated as a guide dog. Since Zeus was six months old, Kate would frequently take him to her high school, where she noticed that many people were not familiar with how to (or how not to) interact with puppies in training. Students and teachers would approach Zeus and attempt to pet him while he had his vest on, a common mistake that also occurs often in public. In other situations, students in the hallways would not give Zeus and Kate adequate space to walk comfortably.
This motivated Kate to write emails to her teachers for an opportunity to inform her classmates about Zeus' training. Once she recieved permission, she introduced Zeus to her class. "My animal outreach and studies teacher had me come in every semester with Zeus as a guest speaker to educate students about Zeus and my role as a puppy raiser," says Kate. She was often surprised that her peers asked questions regarding service dogs she thought were common knowledge, but was nevertheless happy that they were becoming aware of Zeus.
Yet when Kate thought Zeus' presence in school wasn't reaching enough people, she proposed to the school administrator on using the megatrons (large digital TV screens to display school events and info) in her school hallways to promote puppy raising. When Kate was eventually approved to do so, she created slides that introduced Zeus' job, and would make new slides every month that display fun facts about GDB, such as the number of people it takes to raise a single puppy. "I think that teaching others about guide dogs is impactful because it makes people more comfortable and cognizant around guide dogs, which in turn makes a more inclusive environment where guide dog users feel safe," says Kate.
Another great educational resource about GDB and puppy raising is through social media. GDB's official Instagram page has informative posts that explore the various aspects of GDB's life changing mission, including the experience of guide dog users, puppy raisers, formal training, and campus life. Many puppy raisers also have Instagram accounts dedicated to sharing the progress of their puppy, creating a supportive and encouraging volunteer community and a great way for people to take a closer look into the rewarding raising journey.
"I think my favorite part of puppy raising is the connections I make with volunteers, guide dog users, and employees of GDB through Instagram. But it's also great meeting people at school and in public who want to learn more," says Kate. "Zeus was getting recognized more often at school which means people are getting exposed to puppy raising. He even became sort of a mascot at school, so I would dress him up on Spirit day and he would be in the yearbook."
Kate is planning to take Marlow to school in a few months. "Marlow is a bit more wild; he's completely the opposite of Zeus, so I hope he learns to settle so I can take him to school." But once he does, he will also get his ASB card and will be featured on the megatron. Kate is excited to continue educating her community about puppy raising, advocating for guided dog users, and even encouraging students to become puppy raisers.