The first day I brought Joanne to school was nerve-wracking. I felt anxious and concerned about what people would think. Walking down the school hallways with her, people would blatantly stare at me and the four-legged canine walking beside me, in obvious confusion. This was by far not the ideal situation for me, a shy and confidence-lacking high schooler, to experience.
Six years ago my family and I started attending meetings at South Bay Puppy Raisers, our local puppy-raising club for Guide Dogs for the Blind. When we were finally trained and qualified, I got my first guide dog puppy-in-training, Bliss. That first puppy was an eye opening experience because I didn't realize how much work and responsibility it was to raise a guide dog puppy. At 8 weeks old she was just a baby and she had no house manners or training. It was tough getting up with her in the middle of the night to take her out. By far the hardest part was balancing my schoolwork and activities with training a guide dog puppy. What I realized is that training a dog is really about training yourself; it takes consistency, focus, follow through and dedication.
We had Bliss for almost a year and a half until she was recalled for her formal service training. Two months later we found out that she did not meet the strict requirements for being a guide dog, but was highly desirable for other service work. She was trained with another agency, Pawsitive Teams, to be a therapy dog in a special education school. This 40-pound, lovable, yellow fur ball - a dog I had raised and trained for endless hours - was doing amazing things with these handicapped children. This was the pivotal point when I realized how much I had made a difference by raising and training a dog. This fueled my desire to do more.
It became all about how much I could do and how much I could influence others to give back as well. When we received our second puppy, Waimea, I ran for and was voted Secretary of the puppy-raising club. I wanted to expand my leadership outside of our local puppy raising club and prepared educational materials for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Using Waimea as the star, I put together a comprehensive program to engage young adults into service work with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
We visited schools, community groups and scouting meetings with the battle cry for volunteerism and giving back. I also created a video for the Guide Dogs for the Blind website, which they published as part of their marketing efforts. When we got our third puppy, Joanne, I ran and was elected to be President of our puppy-raising club. I brought Joanne to school regularly. Although it was a tremendous amount of work and responsibility to have her in the classroom, we both benefited from the experience. Together we continued to spread the word about Guide Dogs for the Blind, with my leadership and dedication for this important cause shining through.
Without raising guide dogs I would not be the person I am today. Yes, the first day I brought my guide dog puppy-in-training to school with me was tenuous, but she soon became part of my identity and daily rituals - getting her outfitted in her vest and leash after I was dressed, grabbing her water bowl along with my books, and greeting my friends and her fans every morning at school. Not only have I increased my leadership presence with Guide Dogs for the Blind, in the community and in my school, but also I have gained a sense of responsibility and maturity with my hard work and dedication while making a difference in the sight-impaired community. The leadership and communication skills that I have developed, as well as the confidence gained through raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, will be extremely beneficial to me as I pursue my civil engineering education at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.