By Jane Primerano
Chaos reigned in the Roxbury Township Public Library in Succasunna on
Tuesday, May 22, but it was the best kind of chaos.
Representatives of Puppy Tails 4-H club, human and canine, took over the meeting room for a meet and greet with Seeing Eye puppies.
The puppies ranged from newly matched with their handlers to nearly ready to go back to the Seeing Eye for training.
The Randolph-based club has members with their first dogs and some adult members who have raised more than 20. Many of the adult handlers started with their children when they were young and kept taking more puppies after the kids left home.
Kristin Kabis is one of the members who started as a 4-Her and stayed with the club. She has been involved in Puppy Tails since 1997 and now a co-leader. She explained the meet and greet has two purposes. It’s an opportunity for the puppies to meet new people and practice their best behavior. It is also a recruitment tool for more handlers.
Several of the smaller children in the room were enthusiastic about the idea of taking a puppy, especially after seeing their peers with their pups.
Kabis showed a video about The Seeing Eye. It told about the history, when Dorothy Eustice, who raised German Shepherd dogs for police work discovered the German Army was training their military dogs (the breed is known as Alsatian in Europe) to assist veterans who had lost their sight in World War I. A young American named Morris Frank, who lost his sight at 16, wrote to Eustice and asked her to train a dog for him.
She did and a dog named Kissy, renamed Buddy by Frank, became the first Seeing Eye dog.
The Seeing Eye is based in Morris Township with a breeding facility in Chester.
Kabis said most dogs are bred by the Seeing Eye, but some are brought in from other service dog facilities to keep the gene pool as diverse as possible. For many years Seeing Eye dogs were all German Shepherds and that breed is still the symbol of freedom and mobility for the blind to many people. Golden and Labrador retrievers have been used for many years now and the two retriever breeds are now often crossed for a healthier dog.
The video showed the pups have four months of training after leaving their families. Then they are carefully paired with a blind student for four weeks. The students live at The Seeing Eye and spends all his or her time with the dog.
Students come from all over the United States and Canada. The puppy raiser receives a letter from the instructor explaining where the dog was placed.
Occasionally, a dog won’t make the cut and in that case, the handler can adopt it back. Some are used as police dogs while others remain at The Seeing Eye in the “adoptable” kennel until, inevitably, someone falls in love.
Kabis said one of her former puppies is a bomb-detection dog now and another is a drug-sniffing dog.
She reminded the visitors that taking a puppy is a commitment. There is an extensive manual for the puppy raisers explained nutrition, training and every aspect of the puppy’s life. The club meets once a week for socialization and training.
Some of the puppies showed their stuff to the audience, demonstrating how well they heed their commands even in an unfamiliar place full of people.
Kabis provided information for potential puppy raisers as the canine guests gladly received cuddles and delivered kisses.
By Jane Primerano