Have you ever wanted to raise a guide dog puppy, but weren't sure how this would fit into your lifestyle? Were you wondering how to find the time in you and your family’s busy schedules to attend regular in-person puppy club meetings? Well you are in luck!
Guide Dogs for the Blind is now starting to offer a hybrid puppy raising model that is different from our traditional club-based puppy raising program: it is led by staff experts from the GDB Puppy Raising team who provide support and education through a hybrid model of online trainings, webinars, and in-person workshops.
The hybrid project is in its infancy - we launched a pilot program in the spring of 2023, with the first cohort of hybrid puppy raisers in the San Francisco Bay Area. We're excited to announce that the second cohort of this hybrid puppy raising project is now scheduled to begin in October, also in the San Francisco Bay Area. For anyone interested in this opportunity, please visit the Hybrid Puppy Raising Project page of our website for more information and to complete a survey by October 1 letting us know of your interest, with a virtual meeting to follow on October 6.
Puppy raisers involved in the first hybrid cohort are now about five months into the project and are having a lot of fun.
"We have enjoyed so many hysterical moments of crazy puppy-ness!" said Liz Christensen with puppy Rinda. "I had forgotten what a joy it is to see a young pup experience something for the first time."
Sarah Fitzmaurice with puppy Bloom agrees. "Having Bloom has been pure entertainment for me, my four kids, and husband" she said. "Puppies are very funny! We have enjoyed watching Bloom learn to walk up stairs, swim, jump into the pool, ride an elevator - it's fun to see the world from Bloom's eyes."
Most - if not all - of the puppy raisers in the hybrid program agree that the flexible nature of the program is what enabled them to get involved. In-person meetings are consolidated to one day on the weekend every quarter, making participation realistic for many people.
"I was attracted to the hybrid project because it gave me the ability to raise a puppy without the commitment to weekly meetings and monthly outings with a specific group," said Larry Bowman with puppy Sandra. "We have the freedom to raise a puppy in spite of a family schedule that would not allow us to commit to weekly meetings."
Jessie Becker with puppy Asher feels the same. "Hybrid puppy raising gives our family the flexibility to devote the time to raising a guide dog puppy while still participating in all the other activities our three school-age children want to do," she said. "We had always wanted to raise a puppy but couldn't commit to the ongoing weekend activities with the local club - hybrid puppy raising makes it possible!"
Jessie also said that the spirit of community so essential to GDB's traditional puppy raising program is not lacking in the hybrid program.
"Hybrid puppy raising is great because we are able to connect with the other raisers easily - in person at our quarterly meetings, and through zoom, email, and social media every day," she said. "I also really like that all the dogs are roughly at the same age, so we can compare notes about what stage the puppies are entering and share tips about how to help the puppies be successful."
The sense of community even extends beyond their fellow volunteers. "I’m amazed how interested our neighbors are in Rinda's progress," said Liz. "I’ve met lots of people who I might never have met otherwise who are very interested in her progress and in our experience raising her. If Rinda graduates, I think my entire neighborhood will show up!"
Raising a guide dog puppy - even with all of the unconditional puppy love and fun - does require effort and dedication. The hybrid raisers have expressed gratitude for all the support they receive to help them succeed.
"Honestly it's a little more work at the beginning that I realized," said Jessie. "I had forgotten they're like newborn babies who can't sleep through the night yet when they first come home, but now that we're past the initial housebreaking and sleep training, I love it. Asher is sweet and friendly and we love having him in the family. Our cats might not agree, but they're making it work."
"The hybrid raising leadership team from GDB has been awesome!" Jessie went on to say. "They're always available for questions and ready to offer support, and the in-person trainings have been great. They set us up for success with all the equipment, training, and support we need."
Liz feels the same. "The leaders are fantastic and always available to help with issues. I love having a plethora of resources at our fingertips with online training and videos. It has made me really try to analyze issues as they come up. And I know real-time help is just a call away. I have loved doing this. I have had to learn a lot and although there is time spent on fundamental training, there is mostly just time spent with a young, curious, and loving puppy."
Given the enthusiasm for this hybrid program, GDB is thrilled to be moving forward with this model and we hope to roll out hybrid cohorts in additional geographic areas in the future. Hybrid puppy raisers say it best when asked if they'd recommend getting involved as a volunteer in this way.
"If you are interested in dogs and want to do something rewarding and impactful together as a family, I would recommend becoming puppy raising volunteers. It's a great unifying family project!" said Sarah.
And from Jessie: "I would absolutely recommend this volunteer opportunity to others," she said. "It is a great way to teach our kids about the responsibility of caring for an animal as well as the value of giving back to our community. It will be hard to say goodbye to him when he goes back to GDB for training, but I'm inspired to support GDB because of the incredible difference the dogs make in peoples' worlds - helping people who are blind lead more independent and active lives. I love knowing that Asher will be such an important part of someone else's life and we had a chance to help on his journey."
To learn more about becoming a hybrid puppy raising volunteer and to fill out an informational survey, please visit the Hybrid Puppy Raising Project page of our website. We hope to meet you soon!