Fostering a future dog guide is one of the most rewarding experiences you can go through. It takes a selfless and responsible person to raise a newborn puppy into a heroic guide dog. I raised a 6-week-old black Labrador retriever into a 90-pound Autism Assistance Dog and let me tell you, it was one of the greatest things I have ever done. Since my experience I have received a ton of questions regarding the program and many friends have even decided to foster their own dog guide after witnessing my experience first hand. Here is everything you need to know about how to register for the program, why you should do it, and maybe why you shouldn’t.
How the program works
Let’s say you get your new 7-8 week old future guide dog. You will be given the puppy’s food and crate for free. All leashes, collars, and toys will be your responsibility to pay for. All shots and vet care will be covered by the organization at no charge to the foster parent. The puppy will come with a future guide dog vest that when worn by the puppy will allow her to go practically anywhere with you. As a foster parent you promise to attend a group lesson with the puppy every 1-2 months. These lessons include teaching the puppy useful commands and getting to know some other foster parents. After 9-12 months of fostering the puppy you will be given a recall date in which you have to bring the now all-grown-up dog back to the organization for formal guide dog training. The dog will then go on to change the world, and you are updated on his progress every few months.
How do I start?
The very first step in getting your guide dog is to fill out the following form: http://www.dogguides.com/forms/FosterFamilyApplicationForm.pdf and email the completed version to firstname.lastname@example.org. After a few weeks you will be contacted for an at home interview where a representative from the organization will come to your house to interview you in order to determine if you are a suitable foster parent. If you pass the interview, you will be contacted when there is a puppy available for you to come pick up. The wait is usually 3-4 weeks. Super duper easy, that’s all there is to it! Now comes the hard part…
Why you should
There is no doubt that fostering a future guide dog has made me a better person. It has not only made me more patient, responsible, and calm mannered, but my knowledge about dogs and how to interact with them has increased significantly, which surprisingly has come in handy quite often! I chose to get a guide dog because as much as I wanted a dog, I could not commit 13 years to raising one, and my student budget could not afford to support a hungry Labrador. Although it was incredibly difficult to part ways with Emmett at the end of the year, knowing that he will be going on to change someone’s life has made it all seem like the right decision.
Why you shouldn’t
Raising a newborn puppy into a future guide dog is not an easy task. A lot of people would accuse me of signing up for the program just because I wanted to meet girls. Little did they know that no girl is worth the amount of work it takes to raise a newborn puppy. Raising a puppy is a 24 hour, 7 days a week job with no breaks. You will constantly have to think about where your puppy is, if they’ve gone out to pee/poo, etc. If you are not willing to sacrifice some social nights with your friends then this program is not for you. You will be sacrificing a lot of your personal life for the dog, but in return the puppy will love you more than all your friends probably do anyway.
What you can expect
Throughout your year here is a list of things you can expect to experience:
- You will meet a lot of new people
- You will have dog hair on everything you own and all over your house
- You will clean up a lot of pee/poo
- You will always be greeted by your K9 friend when you come home
- You will most likely have some shoes, shorts, or shirts ripped apart
- You will spend a few hundred dollars on dog toys
- You will make a lot of friends who also have dogs
- You will get hardly any sleep the first few weeks after getting your puppy
- You will get approached by people so often that it gets annoying
- You will attract a lot of attention in public places
- You will have to endure cold winter walks
- And most certainly you will cry your eyes out when you give them back for recall
Graduation & Meet n Greet
If all goes smoothly, about 6 months after recall your dog will graduate and be selectively matched with a family in one of the specialization programs. My dog Emmett was matched with an 11-year-old boy named Keagan who lives in a small town in Nova Scotia. Keagan suffers from autism and having Emmett will change his life incredibly. At graduation you meet the new family and exchange contact information. It’s a very emotional night and it’s the bow that ties the whole experience together. You also get to see your dog again and wish them farewell as they go on to change someone’s life just like they most likely changed yours.
Raising a future dog guide can be one of the most gratifying experiences if done for the right reasons. You will not only help change the life of someone with a physical or medical disability but you will yourself change into a much more well rounded person in the process.
PS. Where is my Little Dog guide now? Well he’s that big black lab in the article’s featured photo. The little boy he’s with is little Keagan and they make an incredible team together. Emmett has helped changed Keagan’s life tremendously and his mother gives me updates monthly. I couldn’t be more proud of Emmett, he continues to change the lives of those around him!