Wednesday, the Clark Lane Middle School Pet Club met with two young dogs training to become guide dogs for blind people.
The two dogs, one an 18-month-old black lab named Lasha and the second a two-month-old German Shepard named Leslie, are in the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program, where volunteer Janet Cody raises and trains them for 14 to 16 months. Then, each dog will test to enter training to become, ideally, a guide dog for a blind person, or to be paired with a person with special needs or enter law enforcement. If all else fails, the dog is adopted out as a pet.
“I liken it to when my daughter goes to college,” said Cody, when asked how she feels when she has to give up the dog at around age 2 so it can be trained for its new role. “And I want to see how they do.”
The dogs were well-received by the Pet Club, a group of about 12 students that meet once a week and either have interesting animals come to the school or visit a place with interesting animals. Clark Lane Middle School Social Worker Robin Baslaw, who herself is a big dog person, says it isn’t hard to find students to join the club.
“It’s a big seller,” Baslaw said. ”It’s really not hard to sell animals to middle school students.”
The students will visit Waterford Country School and High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Old Lyme and have already met with a group of dogs who help out handicapped people and are trained to open a refrigerator and other tasks. This Wednesday, Lasha and Leslie visited the school, and it was a big hit with the kids.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a group that trains puppies to prepare them to be formerly trained as guide dogs for blind people. The dogs are also used for other functions if they are better suited for a different job, but 60 percent of the dogs successfully become guide dogs, according to Guiding Eyes for the Blind Region Coordinator for Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut Valerie Hazlin.
Hazlin said she has raised 11 puppies through the program and still keeps in contact with the owners of several of them. She said she volunteers her time to raise the dogs because her husband never wanted to go through the process of putting down an old dog, and this situation avoids that.
“You never have to say that permanent farewell,” Hazlin said.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind breeds its own dogs to be used for the program, Hazlin said. To become a volunteer for the program, e-mail Hazlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 860-464-6286.
The Pet Club , which has been around for four years, is one of several clubs that the school has as part of an initiative called “Connections,” Baslow said. The idea is simple: have students spend time after school with each other, bonding over a common interest, to form a connection, she said.
“What they have in common is a love of animals,” Baslow said. “And you get a wide spectrum of students here, from students with some severe special needs to students who might go on to become vets.”