It was quite a sight to see. More than 20 puppies hopped out of an RTC bus and made their way to the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum in downtown Reno. “This is our big adventure,” Warren Wish said with a smile on his face. The 30-year puppy raiser led the group of specially bred puppies and their handlers. Their goal? To become future Guide Dogs for the Blind.
The Discovery Museum is a lot of fun for adults, children and families, but as soon as the pups walked through the doors – it was all work for them. Wish, who is raising a black Lab named Figby, has a lot of experience socializing and training these dogs. He has worked with dozens of them. “I've lost count. My wife says about 28 or 29." Figby did not seem overly excited about all the commotion inside the museum, where kids were running, screaming and playing with interactive exhibits. Warren was curious how the younger pups would react though.
Puppies like Micron, who was only 16 weeks old. Katlynn Shepard is responsible for teaching him manners and general obedience. Her primary goal during this training exercise is to keep Micron focused amid all the distractions.The 20-year-old trainer has quite a bit of experience. “He's the ninth puppy I've raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind,” she shares. Katlynn started training as a pup herself; she was just 12-years old when she started. “You're training 24/7 with them in the home, out working, in the car.” The goal is to expose the young dog to any and every place a blind person needs or wants to go. From riding an elevator, to navigating stairs and even passing food on the ground, the Guide Dogs in training must be able to handle it all. “We're going to have the dogs walk on by the food on the ground and they have to be able to ignore it." Micron was not interested at all and he was rewarded with a treat for his focus. Katlynn also gave him a lot of praise. "He's acting very well for four months old. He's doing awesome." She will continue working with him until he is almost two years old and then he will return to San Rafael, California for formal training. Following that, Micron will face his final test in the city. He will have to lead a blindfolded person down a busy city street. “I'm talking cars, buses, motorcycles and pedestrians and the dog has to be able to handle that." If he passes, he will become a Guide Dog for the Blind. Katlynn and Micro have a long way to go until the last test, but she is already preparing for that day. "It's hard to give them back. It never gets easier, but seeing them graduate is totally worth it."
Audi, who also tagged along for the museum field trip, already graduated as a Guide Dog. He was recently paired up with Len Campbell who lost his site to a rare eye disease. He says thanks to Guide Dogs, he is still able to live independently. “All I can say is God bless the puppy raisers and their involvement. These dogs give me my life."
Guide Dogs for the Blind will host a fundraising luncheon this weekend at The Grove on Foothill Road in south Reno. The money raised will help the volunteer puppy raisers with veterinary bills for these special dogs. Tickets are still available for that luncheon. Just click on: http://welcome.guidedogs.com/events/dogs-hearts-gold-v