Families raise pups for a cause

Families raise pups for a cause | http://www.azstarnet.com

Photos by Dean Knuth / Arizona Daily Star
Michelle Mueller, 16, attends to Drama, a 9-month-old black labrador puppy being trained as a guide dog for the blind, during an outing.


Families raise pups for a cause

Efforts benefit Guide Dogs for the Blind clients

By Dale Quinn
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 11.22.2005

When Michelle Mueller decided to raise a guide-dog puppy, her only concern was about giving the dog away after 18 months.
The Catalina Foothills High School sophomore took comfort in the thought that if her puppy did not graduate from the intense guide-dog training program, she’d get it back.

But that didn’t happen.

Her dog, Cherub – a yellow Labrador retriever – completed the guide-dog training. On Nov. 12, in San Rafael, Calif., Michelle handed the dog over to a blind man from St. Joseph, Mo.

“I guess most of the possessiveness dissipated when I wasn’t seeing her every day,” she said about dealing with the loss of Cherub. “And it’s really important for her to be with somebody else, because they really need her more than a family needs a pet.”

Michelle and her parents, Brian and Deanna Mueller, are just one of several Foothills families that have taken on the responsibility of raising guide-dog puppies.

Deborah Gordon, a Foothills resident who’s working with her eighth puppy, said she got involved in puppy raising in 2001 at her daughter’s request. She’s been connected with raising the pups since and is now a Guide Dogs for the Blind leader in Pima County. She is responsible for ensuring that six Tucson-area families take proper care of their puppies.
Gordon works with families through the 4-H club “Paws for the Cause.” She said that before families can get a dog, the primary raisers of the puppy must attend meetings where they learn training techniques and go on outings with current puppy raisers.
The family must also allow an inspection of its home and yard to ensure it’s safe for a puppy, and must use proper toys with the dog, let it sleep indoors, and must attend regular meetings.

“We do ask that the whole family get involved, because it really is a whole-family job,” Gordon said.

Another Catalina Foothills High School sophomore, Michael Montgomery, will begin taking care of a puppy in December after the next shipment of dogs arrives from Guide Dogs for the Blind’s headquarters in San Rafael. He said he’s already begun attending meetings with “Paws for the Cause” and goes with members when they take their puppies in public places – such as shopping centers, grocery stores and restaurants.

Montgomery said he knows it will be difficult giving the dog away after caring for it for more than a year, but that is a sacrifice he’s willing to make. As a raiser, Montgomery will keep the puppy for 14 to 18 months and be responsible for house training, teaching basic commands and socialization. He will then return the dog to Guide Dogs for the Blind, where it will receive five to six months of more intense training.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization based in San Rafael that provides dogs to visually impaired people. To receive a guide dog, the blind person must first have orientation and mobility skills, said Joanne Ritter, a spokeswoman for the organization.

“You have to know where you want to go,” Ritter said. “You have to know if you want to go right or left, but the guide dog is trained to get you there safely.”

Those interested in receiving a guide dog also attend a month-long course in San Rafael, where they learn how to care for and work with the dog. Transportation, room and board for the blind person is paid for by Guide Dogs for the Blind through private donations, Ritter said.

Nick Whitney, 55, the man who received Cherub – the guide dog Mueller raised – said he decided to use a guide dog because his vision began to deteriorate significantly about three to five years ago. He said he has complete confidence when using Cherub to help his mobility.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with this dog, Michelle and her family, and the job they did raising her,” he said.

Whitney said Cherub’s excitement was evident when she saw Michelle for the first time after six months. After Cherub’s graduation, the Muellers invited Whitney to dinner. He said the entire experience was emotional for all of them.

“I was so proud of the job Michelle did, it brought tears to me,” he said. After dinner, he took off Cherub’s harness and allowed Michelle to play with her.

Gordon explained why people go through the emotional roller coaster of raising an animal just to give it away less than two years later.

“You know that you’re working for a bigger cause than just raising a pet for your family,” Gordon said.

● Contact reporter Dale Quinn at 618-1924 or dquinn@azstarnet.com

Copyright © 2005

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