Guide dog puppy raisers share their journeys along the way

Puppies celebrating National Puppy Day. Photos courtesy Best Friends Animal Society
Puppies celebrating National Puppy Day. Photos courtesy Best Friends Animal Society /
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Guide dog puppy raisers play a vital role in training service dogs. But what is that experience like?

Guide dog puppy raisers are an often-overlooked element in the training of guide dogs, and puppy raisers in general play an enormous role in setting future service dogs exposure to the great big world before they advance into formal training at Puppy College (and hopefully future careers helping people).

While National Puppy Day has come and gone (it sort of snuck pup on us), Dog O’Day was still able to do an email interview with several guide dog puppy raisers who are connected with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a guide-dog training organization based in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Alissa Phillips of Yorktown Heights, New York, is currently raising her fifth puppy for Guiding Eyes, a year-old yellow Labrador named Molly. She was a Guiding Eyes intern during high school and is currently in grad school.

Christine Zunino of Simsbury, Connecticut, has been raising guide dog puppies off and on for over 25 years, and the mother of her current yellow Lab puppy, Jaedah, was raised by Chris’s daughter, so it’s cool that they were able to pass on this family tradition of service.

Natalie and Anneliese Bush of Poughquag, New York, are another mother-daughter team, currently raising their second Guiding Eyes puppy. Anneliese is an elementary student who hopes to work for Guiding Eyes when she grows up.

Dog O’Day – How did you get involved with guide dogs or service animals?

Alissa – I became involved with guide dogs as a senior in high school through a civic internship program that allowed me to participate in an internship in the community. I applied to intern at Guiding Eyes, interviewed, and spent a year interning at the Training School Kennel in Yorktown Heights. When I graduated high school and finished the internship I was looking for a way to stay involved, but without a set schedule of volunteer hours, as I was starting college. I found the application to puppy raise and the rest is history!

Natalie and Anneliese – It all started with a raccoon. The starving and injured animal limped up to our back door window as we decorated our Christmas tree in late 2019. Our daughter Anneliese, 9 years old, fell in love with the raccoon gazing into its eyes through the glass. We brought the racoon to a nearby wild animal rescue, but she never forgot the engaging little eyes of that beautiful creature.

Anneliese’s Daddy said that she would love a dog and shared stories about his childhood dog, a loyal and gentle German Shepherd. German Shepherds are very intelligent dogs, so I knew we needed training to learn how to care for and train a large breed dog.

In early 2020, we contacted Guiding Eyes for the Blind to inquire about becoming Puppy Raisers. We were matched with an adorable 9 week yellow Lab named Dakota and our amazing learning journey began!

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a wonderful organization. They have the best teachers and we received support and training through every aspect of our raising experience.  They also have great dogs, and our Dakota was no exception. She was smart and so affectionate. Anneliese really enjoyed raising her.

Chris – We had a yellow Lab called Jaedah, who was nine months old at the time, when I came across a notice in the Yankee Flyer which said that Guiding Eyes for the Blind was looking for puppy raisers. As my children were older and all in school, I talked it over with my husband, and here I am some 30 years later raising a Guiding Eyes puppy named Jaedah, having spent many years both as a puppy raiser and Regional Leader for the program.