BC & Alberta Guide Dogs needs volunteer puppy raisers to help train future guide dogs. (File contributed/BC & Alberta Guide Dogs)

B.C. Guide dogs is looking for volunteer puppy raisers

Labrador retrievers need to learn obedience and socialization before heading to work

There are some tiny Labrador retrievers that could use some love and support, says BC and Alberta Guide Dogs.

The organization has put out a call for volunteers to help raise future service dogs for Vancouver Island, the mainland and Calgary.

Volunteers would take care of the puppies starting when they’re seven to eight weeks old, and keep them until their 14 to 18 months old to teach them obedience and social skills.

“The reason we do the volunteer puppy raising is because a big part of a well-trained service dog is being comfortable in all different kinds of environments,” said Samantha Jagt, puppy training supervisor (who, yes, knows she has the best job title in the world).

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“There’s a finite time to get that socialization done. When they’re placed we don’t have a concrete idea of where they’ll be placed … maybe they’ll be in downtown Vancouver and need to navigate the SkyTrain, or lead people down roads somewhere rural.”

Puppy trainers will meet with Jagt regularly; weekly for the first while, then up to three times per month. Future service dogs will also do group classes to learn specific skills.

Currently, there are 17 puppy raiser volunteers on the Island, all south of Nanaimo, but BC and Alberta Guide Dogs need more as it expands its services and has higher demands.

The organization is now amalgamating with Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs to offer service dogs for veterans and service members suffering from PTSD, and is also facing higher and higher demands for service dogs for those with physical impairments and autism.

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“Both wait-lists are closed because we have such a high demand,” Jagt said.

While the dogs will live with volunteers, BC and Alberta Guide Dogs still owns the pups, who are bred in Delta. That means they cover all their vet costs, and basic needs (though volunteers are welcome to get them lots of toys and are responsible for poop bags).

Jagt said not all puppies pass the requirements to become a service dog, sometimes due to excitability or health issues. She said these dogs don’t “fail” the course, but rather go through a “career change” and can be transferred to one of two pet programs, either for young children with autism or to regular families (though in this case, volunteers get the first right of refusal).

Giving up the puppies after a year-and-a-half of training is no easy thing to do, Jagt said, but in the end it’s worth it.

“I’ve raised four puppies and I don’t sugar coat that part, it’s really hard to give them up,” Jagt said. “But I encourage people to think of it as giving to, rather than giving up … the heartbreak is temporary. Seeing how much it has changed someone’s life is worth it.”

BC and Alberta Guide Dogs is also looking for donations to help build a new breeding facility in Delta that will have all the x-ray and ultrasound equipment necessary to help them expand.

For more information, or to make a donation, you can head to bcandlabertaguidedogs.com

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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