“You cry a lot,” said volunteer puppy raiser Sandy Steinblums of Duarte, referring to the emotional highs and lows associated with fostering, raising and training a future guide dog hopeful.
One might expect tears when the pup has grown and it’s time to return to the Guide Dogs of America Sylmar, Calif., campus for formal training. And good luck finding a dry eye at graduation while watching newly paired teams successfully navigate the stage and begin a life together. But, says Steinblums, the unexpected waterworks comes upon learning that a dog you’ve raised has been released from formal training.
“I think I cried for three days when I got the call about Sammie,” she said. “It’s sad when they get released from the program because we’re doing this to help somebody. People always ask, ‘How do you give them up’ and my answer is always, ‘It’s harder when you get the call they’re coming home.’”
Some dogs, like Sammie, are released for medical reasons. Others are released because of fear issues or distractibility. Some just aren’t committed to the job.
“When Sammie came back, I wasn’t sure I was going to raise another puppy,” Steinblums said. Four months later, her latest puppy-in-training, Talli, joined the family. Talli is the fourth puppy Steinblums has raised.
“There is a certain amount of addiction to it. I absolutely love puppy raising," she said.
For Steinblums, the joy of puppy raising comes not just from the sweet smell of puppy breath and the chance to help change the life of a visually impaired person, but also from the friendships she has formed with fellow puppy raisers.
“You meet the most amazing people. There’s something very different about people who are willing to do the guide dog puppy raising,” she explained. “I can almost guarantee that I’ll know many of the people I’ve met through GDA for the rest of my life… they’re that amazing.”