This International Guide Dog Day, 28 April, Blind Low Vision NZ is celebrating the essential role that Puppy Raisers play in getting guide dogs up to scratch.

Puppy Raisers are volunteers and help to develop confidence and resilience in young dogs through early socialisation and exposure to the everyday situations and environments the dog will encounter as a guide.

Sara Leavy, from Stanley Point, Auckland has been a Puppy Raiser for three years and is raising her third pup Emma. Her first two dogs Ivy and Aztec both qualified for the guide dogs programme, which is no small feat as only the best of the best dogs make it through.

She says getting the call to hear your pup has been matched is one of the best moments.

“It makes you so unbelievably happy and weepy. There were lots of smiles and celebrations in our house that day.

“To know that after all the work that’s gone into the pup – from the breeding centre, trainers, vets, boarders, as well as our patience and time – has all been worth it. That the dog will now meet their new handler and together they will be a team, exploring the world together, is an amazing feeling.”

Saying goodbye to a pup as they go off into formal training is a mixture of sadness and excitement.

Puppy raiser Sara Leavy says goodbye to Aztec as she goes off to formal training.
Puppy raiser Sara Leavy says goodbye to Aztec as she goes off to formal training.

“I have three kids and I see the pups like my kids. I want to make them well socialised, well-mannered and then I want them to go out into the big wide world as a working adult making a difference.”

Her youngest son, who was particularly smitten with their first puppy started to research the amazing difference guide dogs have made in people’s lives.

“He would talk about a girl who had become blind at 13 years old and hadn’t left the house until she got her first guide dog at 17. Her world just opened up.

“It made him realise the positive impact a guide dog has on someone’s life and the importance of Puppy Raisers, so we are excited to hand over the pups to the training team, with crossed fingers, hoping they make it.”

Rochelle Corrigan, Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs Puppy Placement and Development Manager says Puppy Raisers are essential.

“Our puppies need to have as many experiences and social outings as possible in the first year of their lives to best prepare them for life as a guide dog and this could simply not be achieved without the dedication of our fantastic volunteers.”

Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs are looking for puppy raisers in Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty. Find out more here and apply.