Herald Photo / Provided
PUPPY  — Missy Guyer of Midwest Eye Consultants and her daughter, Maddie, are raising a puppy to be a leader dog for the blind.
Herald Photo / Provided PUPPY — Missy Guyer of Midwest Eye Consultants and her daughter, Maddie, are raising a puppy to be a leader dog for the blind.
In July of last year Missy Guyer, office manager at Midwest Eye Consultants in Kokomo, along with her daughter, Maddie, took on a task that would require them to meet requirements and responsibilities that would alter their lives for the following 12 months.

This task was like no other. The pair took on the responsibility of raising Berkley, a female golden retriever puppy, that would later serve as eyes for the blind through the program Leader Dogs for the Blind. For Missy, this was an opportunity for Maddie, who previously volunteered at the Miami County Animal Shelter, to not only continue to volunteer, but also to give back to her community before heading off to Florida State University in the fall where she will begin her studies in veterinarian technologies. 

Missy said she has participated in a few events through Midwest Eye Consultants in the past that made her aware of the Leader Dogs for the Blind program, including the VisionWalk-Foundation Fighting Blindness event that is held annually in Indianapolis. It was through such events that gave her the idea of becoming involved in the leader dog program with her daughter. 

“I was thinking of something that she could do to give back to the community and still volunteer and not bring every animal home. I also reiterated to her that Berkley is not a pet and that she will be going back,” said Missy.

The pair’s role in the leader dog training program requires them to house and train Berkley for one year, training her on the basic commands, such as, “sit,” “park,” “come,” “stay,” and “off,” which will prepare her for the next level of training before becoming a leader dog. 

“At this point in her training she has to be with either my daughter or me all of the time. Where we go, so goes Berkley. Unlike normal dogs, we cannot just leave her with a friend or family member. She has to remain with Maddie or myself 24/7,” said Missy.

Leader Dog for the Blind requires puppy raisers to expose their puppies to as many different scenarios as possible while they are young. This allows them to become used to the many different conditions they may experience in their future as a service dog. These experiences include walks in the neighborhood, walks through busier downtown areas, visits to schools, sporting events, department stores, malls, fairs, as well as on various surfaces and around noises such as sirens, loud trucks, horns, and fireworks. 

Berkley already has been exposed to many of these types of conditions, and to this point, she has handled them all with no issues, said Missy. 

“Aside from the temptation to chase the occasional squirrel, Berkley has been spot-on in her training. Maddie and I have subjected her to every environment from different types of floor surfaces, schools, and a fire where she was able to ride in the fire truck with flashers and sirens blaring, and she handled it just fine. She has even gone on ride-a-longs with the police,” said Missy.

While undergoing training, Berkley still is allowed to be a puppy during downtimes. Missy said there are patients who come into the office who have brought in toys for her. However, it is important for the puppy to learn that there is time for play and a time for training and, later, duty. Teaching the future leader dog how to decipher between when they are on or off from their training or duty is demonstrated to them by when they are wearing or not wearing their issued leader dog bandana, vest, or jacket. 

Leader Dogs for the Blind requires future leader dogs wear the issued bandana, jacket, or vest when they are in public, along with their leader dog ID tag, which identifies them as a future leader dog and clarifies their presence in stores or other public places. 

Missy and Maddie will continue their training with Berkley through late June. After that Berkley will receive the remaining of her training at Puppy College in Rochester Hills, Mich., before she can be assigned to her duty as a leader dog for the blind.