SAN ANTONIO – Since 1989, Guide Dogs of Texas, a nonprofit guide dog provider, has worked to train and provide guide dogs to visually impaired Texans.
The group professionally breeds, raises, trains and matches guide dogs to owners across the state. It’s a service that brings companionship, freedom, and mobility to those who need the assistance of a guide dog.
Judy St. Claire has been legally blind since 1993 and she said just the ability to be able to travel independently with her guide dog has positively impacted her life.
“We trust one another and it’s a trust factor. It’s just wonderful because with the cane, you basically have to know where you’re going but you could still get hurt. A dog is going to see something ahead of time and protect you,” said St. Claire.
Guide Dogs of Texas said pups are placed with volunteer puppy raisers until the age of 14 to 16 months. Located in San Antonio, the group said that even in a pandemic it has managed to care for a number of litters of future guide dogs and is in need of some “puppy raisers,” to help the program.
Patty McCauley is a puppy raiser and has been with her dog “Nugget” since he was 8-weeks-old. She said she had played with the idea of becoming a volunteer for a while but then decided how much her service would help so many people in need.
“It’s just raising a puppy, giving a dog love, taking it out and introducing it to people, the environment, things a normal person would come across every day and just knowing you’re giving back to somebody. I think it’s kind of a neat thing to know you can help someone just by doing that,” said McCauley.
According to the group, “no prior experience is required and all training is provided.”
The nonprofit says, “puppy raisers are responsible for teaching the puppies good manners and providing socialization experiences for about the first year of the pups’ lives.”
The puppy raisers also attend monthly meetings where they share ideas, information, work on training techniques and participate in socialization outings.
Guide dog instructor Amy Zamora said the dogs bring more than just increased mobility and independence.
“The dogs bring in a lot of happy faces and it really encourages people to go up to our clients to engage with them and it brings this whole beautiful social relationship as well,” said Zamora.
And though guide dogs are docile and friendly, the instructors said it’s important not to pet them. It’s something guide dog owner St. Claire said she doesn’t allow while her dog is in a harness.
“If I would let anyone just touch her with the harness on, then she’d want to go over and play. It’s gonna get distracted and the whole idea of working a guide dog is that the distractions will come but they’re gonna stay focused,” said St. Claire.
Guide Dogs of Texas charge just one dollar for each specially trained dog, though the cost of raising and training a guide dog can be as high as $50,000.