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'Independence is a right': Guide dog puppy raisers needed in B.C.

B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs is looking for volunteers to raise puppies so they can grow up and help people.

Future guide dogs need your help in British Columbia as the organization is looking for volunteer puppy raisers. 

April 24 marks International Guide Dog Day and B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs has 166 dogs working with people.

Rachel Nelson is an apprentice mobility dog instructor and says the job is very rewarding. 

“Being able to work with the dogs, but also the people, it's pretty amazing,’ she says. “Watching your dog that you trained, go off and do all the things they need to do with someone else is really the most rewarding thing.”

She’s been in the program for two years now and explains how the dogs go through a lot of training. 

“It is quite difficult. We were throwing a lot of things at them,” she says. “There's a lot of tasks that they need to know, but it's also a personality temperament because they're going to be out in the world, they're going to be exposed to a lot of different scenarios.”

Guide dogs keep people safe and also allow them to have independence. 

“There’s going to be people, there's going to be crowds, there's traffic,” says Nelson. “It's a lot of technical skills that our dogs need to know but they also need to have the right temperament.”

The organization is looking for people or families to help raise the pups for 18 months to two years before they graduate through the program. 

Ideal puppy raisers are retirees or families who have time to spend with the dog. They must also bring them to training once a week, usually on Fridays in Ladner. 

People should also have experience with handling dogs and a steady schedule. All of the vet bills and food will be taken care of by the organization. 

“We have all of our puppies go straight into a puppy-raising home,” says Nelson. “The puppy raisers are basically raising those dogs until they're about a year and a half old, so they're doing a lot of the groundwork, essentially teaching a lot of foundations.”

From there, the dogs will advance to training with the mobility trainers Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

“It becomes a lot more intense very quickly and that's where we're assessing the dogs really seeing if they're enjoying the work and if they're able to handle that pressure that we put on them,” says Nelson. 

Matching a dog to a person is important and taken very seriously, she adds.

"We want to take a look at the dog and make sure they’re compatible together.”

People must be legally blind, a permanent resident in Canada and over the age of 13 to qualify. The program costs a "symbolic" one dollar. 

“They essentially don't need to pay for the guide dog that they're receiving,” says Nelson. “A lot of the times, with the clients, because they aren't able to work, it could be a really big financial burden if we were saying you have to pay $30,000 for this dog, which is what we equate all the training, the raising them.”

Ryan Kanatzar is a guide dog mobility instructor and has worked with hundreds of dogs over his five years in the industry. He says the most rewarding part of the job is when the guide dog and person don’t need his support anymore. 

“Independence is a right. We take it for granted,” he says. “The independence that your vision allows you … having conversations, getting from point A to point B, and living without that can be pretty challenging for some people.”

Guide dogs retire around 10 years old and get to live a life of luxury after all their hard work. 

To learn more about volunteering and the puppy raiser program, visit their website.