Walking around campus, you may see a young woman with puppy. You may have classes with this young woman, or you may even know her. Both she and the puppy are in the process of a wonderful learning experience.
The young woman is Jennie Huntrods, and the puppy’s name is Dinah. Huntrods is a graduate student in rural sociology from Van Meter, Iowa. She is raising Dinah as part of the puppy raising program for Leader Dogs for the Blind.
According to Huntrods, Leader Dogs for the Blind is a non-profit organization based out of Rochester Hills, Michigan. The organization provides the blind and visually impaired with guide dogs for free.
“The organization was established by Lions Club members in 1939, and has since trained more than 14,000 guide dog/person teams,” said Huntrods. “The organization is able to give dogs at no cost thanks to generous donors and volunteer puppy raisers.”
Huntrods said that volunteer puppy raisers pick up puppies between 6-10 weeks and have the dog anywhere from 10-12 months. After that training period, the dog then goes back to Leader Dog headquarters in Rochester Hills for another four-six months of training. At approximately 16 months old, the dogs placed with someone.
“Puppy raisers keep the dog for the first year of its life,” she continued, “[they] teach the puppy basic obedience, social skills, potty training, and a host of other skills needed for the dog to be successful in the program.”
Huntrods has been with the organization for approximately a year and a half. Dinah is the second puppy Huntrods has raised. She said that she first learned about the program from some friends who were raising a puppy for the program. She noted that she also learned that puppies were also being raised in the Iowa prison system. “With the help of my church youth group, we began fundraising to sponsor prison puppies and did so for a number of years,” she said.
“My home church still sponsors puppies to this day,” she continued. “When my pet dog passed away in October 2010, I applied to raise a puppy. My application was approved, and I received my first Future Leader Dog in December 2010.”
Although the training is similar to that of a personal pet, there are other skills that must be assessed. They must be trained and skilled to help in certain situations.
“A huge component of puppy raising is the socialization process,” said Huntrods. “I take Dinah with me everywhere I go on campus, which prepares her for the situations she may encounter when working. She rides the bus, sits through class, comes with me to work in the office, and encounters bikes, skateboards, and roller blades. It is important that the dog learns to focus on work and not be distracted by what is happening around it.”
Training doesn’t come without obstacles. Some people ask questions about what Huntrods is doing, others understand that she is training the puppy, while others think she has some sort of disability. Huntrods has found a way to combat the touchy issues.
“Not only do I educate the dog,” said Huntrods. “I teach the public about the Leader Dogs for the Blind program and the wonderful work they do. I enjoy talking to people about the benefits service dogs provide in giving mobility and independence to the visually impaired, and how important they are to the people who rely on them.”
Raising a Future Leader Dog is time consuming, but Huntrods is willing to incorporate the process into her daily schedule.
“The university setting is a wonderful place to raise a puppy, and I am able to go about my daily schedule without much alteration—with the exception of a few extra bathroom breaks outside for the furry one!”