Sunday, July 27

Puppies with a Future

Puppies with a future
4-H youngsters train them to be Seeing Eye dogs
By Ellen S. Wilkowe

Daily Record
July 25, 2008

Dorothy recently rode shotgun in a shopping cart at Target and Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, Paco got to sniff around the Livingston Mall and was welcomed at
Neighborhood Grill. And the harness on his mouth is not a muzzle.
"It's a gentle leader," said handler Sharon Carey of Boonton.
Paco, a 10-month-old black Lab, and Dorothy, a 16-month-old German Shepherd,
two of more than a dozen puppies and their human handlers taking over Martha
backyard in Madison at their weekly meeting of the Four Footed Leaders.
For some youth members, this is the last meeting before their appearance at
County's 38th annual 4-H Fair starting July 25.
They are ordinary in terms of playful nips, sloppy kisses and wagging tails
energy-harnessing potential, but extraordinary in terms of their future
training at the Seeing Eye in Morris Township to assist the blind. It's a
that starts at the hands of their first families, who raise them from as
young as
seven weeks to about 15 months.
Launched in 1942, the puppy-raising program is a joint effort of The Seeing
Eye and
the 4-H Youth Development Program. The Seeing Eye breeds its own German
Labrador and golden retrievers, and Lab/golden crosses. Puppies are placed
with families
when they are about 7 weeks old and raised in homes for just over a year.
A poster for the dog days of summer, the weekly meeting of the Four Footed
allows puppies and humans to work on their socialization skills and
obedience exercises.
"OK, let's do figure eights," said Nicole MeyerKopf, a trainer at The Seeing
and former president of the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising
(Her puppy Garcia attended her graduation and has since graduated from The
Eye himself.)
The training techniques teach the dog to follow the handler and dodge
MeyerKopf said.
July 25-27, kids and puppies will show off their skills at the 38th annual
County 4-H Fair at Chubb Park in Chester Township.
The Seeing Eye Puppy Demonstrations and Bowl, where dog raisers field
are just one aspect of the fair that captures the agricultural spirit of
Morris County.
The fair kicks off today at 9:30 a.m. and runs through Sunday. Admission is
except for a $5 per car parking fee.
"It's a nice inexpensive event for families," said Kathy Murarik, Morris
County 4-H
program associate.
In addition to animal showmanship and interaction, the fair comes fully
with spruced-up rides, live entertainment and hands-on activities including
decorating and a watermelon eating contest.
Clinging to its rural roots, the fair affords participants the opportunity
to experience
Morris County's past through the Farmer for a Day event located in the
Petting Barn.
After digging for spuds or picking apples, fairgoers can get up close and
with a cold-blooded creature at the herpetology exhibit -- think reptiles
and amphibians
-- also located in the Petting Barn, and feast at the 4-H Chicken Barbecue.
Thumb losing its green luster? Master Gardeners from Rutgers Cooperative
will be at hand to provide an assist.
With 300 to 400 members, the Morris County 4-H Club is holding its own,
Murarik said.
The club is open to members in first grade through age 19.
"The first- through third-graders are never judged," she said. "The older
they get,
the more responsibilities they take on."
For example, the more than 100 members/volunteers who make the fair happen
may take
charge of running a show or raising an animal for showmanship.
Such is the case with the Seeing Eye puppy raisers.
"It's a big responsibility for the kids," Bardin said. "Watching some of the
kids get this puppy and just open up and tell everyone what they're doing
There are currently 729 puppies placed with families throughout New Jersey,
Delaware and Maryland, said Jill Jaycox, area coordinator for puppy
placement at
The Seeing Eye.
Puppy raisers fill out an application and are then placed on a waiting list,
said. When the puppies are 7 weeks old, they are assigned to a family until
are 15-16 months old. Then they are returned to The Seeing Eye, where they
formal training and are matched to a blind person to help him or her lead a
independent life.
The pain of returning a puppy often transforms a first-timer into a repeat
she said. Such is the case with the Kaye family of Madison.
"It was so hard to part with her and say goodbye, but to open someone else's
and help the blind," Marilee Kaye said.
Paisley is the third four-footed family member.
The Kayes learned about the program seven years ago, courtesy of their
oldest daughter,
who came home from a Girl Scout meeting where a Seeing Eye trainer spoke at
a career
Then along came Paul, a black Lab and golden mix, and then Narda, who became
family pet after not making the program.
Dogs can be rejected for a variety of reasons, such as physical and medical
or behavioral issues, as was the case with the easily distracted yet
loveable Narda.
"We have high hopes for Paisley," Kaye said.
Attending weekly or monthly meetings, depending on the club, is a mandatory
for raising a puppy. The meetings allow the trainers to work out the
training kinks
and, most important, allow the dogs to socialize with people and other
In addition, puppy raisers are responsible for basic training and commands,
exposing the animals to as many scenarios as possible.
With socialization at the forefront of training, this is also the one time a
can pet one of the pooches before they go into full-fledged training.
"Just ask," Bardin said.

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