By JENNIFER FITCH
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — A canine member of a Frederick County, Md., family is enjoying puppyhood with treats, walks and massages, but he will someday have a big job as a service dog.
The McCauleys brought Gibson, a black Labrador, home about 10 months ago. He is their third dog through Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“He’s been the easiest to work with,” Jim McCauley said. “He’s very connected with people.”
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is seeking new puppy raisers in Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, as well as Southcentral Pennsylvania. Puppy raisers bring 8-week-old dogs into their homes, then nurture and educate them for a 14- to 16-month period.
Afterward, the dogs go to specialized training to become guide dogs for blind or visually impaired individuals.
Linda McCauley spotted an advertisement for the organization about four years ago. The couple said they have always had dogs, including several Labrador retrievers.
The McCauleys found themselves drawn to the organization’s work.
“We thought that in addition to enjoying the dog, he’d serve a purpose,” Jim McCauley said of the first dog, Dalton.
Dalton now lives with a young woman in Georgia.
“We got to see them working together, which was really nice,” Linda McCauley said.
“She loves him,” Jim McCauley said.
The McCauleys said the initial work with a dog involves massage, handling and socialization. It also includes housebreaking and general behavioral training.
“The first few weeks are interesting because it’s like bringing a baby home,” Jim McCauley said, saying the dogs require a significant time commitment.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind dogs go to weekly training classes, where they learn basic commands through verbal cues and hand signals, as well as how to stay connected with their handlers. The dogs receive vests designating them as service dogs so they can gain experience being handled in businesses and public places.
The McCauleys said the organization pays for training classes and veterinary care, while the puppy raisers are responsible for food and toys.
The McCauleys have attended their dogs’ graduation ceremonies from the specialized training and met their assigned handlers.
“It opens up (the handlers’) worlds. They can do anything with them,” Jim McCauley said.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s puppy-raising program is comprised of more than 400 volunteers from Maine to North Carolina.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)