LONGMEADOW – During the past year, a local family brought a black labrador puppy named Enya into their home and helped train the dog to serve as a guide for blind and visually impaired persons for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Cheryl Lilley, a resident who trained the now 14-month-old dog with her 12-year-old son Morgan, told Reminder Publications Enya was returned to Guiding Eyes’ headquarters in Yorktown Heights, NY, and would begin her formal training to become a guide dog.
“Raising Enya has been a family learning experience,” she said. “I think she taught us as much as we taught her. We are excited to see her go in for her testing and know that she will make a wonderful guide dog, but it is bittersweet because we shall miss her as part of our family.”
Enya was the Lilley family’s first dog, she noted. She described Enya as an active dog with an amicable personality that is receptive to training.
“She spoiled me rotten,” Cheryl said. “She was the best dog ever.”
Cheryl, who works as a supervisor for teachers of the visually impaired in the Springfield Public Schools, said one of the teachers recommended Guiding Eyes as a way to gain the experience of raising a dog for Morgan, who wanted the family to get a dog.
She added that overall the experience of living and training with a guide dog for more than a year has been positive.
“It’s weird not having her here,” Cheryl said. “It was hard dropping her off and saying goodbye, but she’s happy.”
Cheryl said she would consider training another dog sometime in the future.
Enya’s training focused on developing “perfect house manners,” such as not jumping on people or furniture as well as waiting to be fed and let outside, and walking on a loose leash, Cheryl said.
“It’s a lot – you definitely have to be willing to put the time and effort into the training,” she added.
The training regiment was incorporated into everyday activities such as walking and feeding the animal, she noted. Formal training lasts approximately 10 minutes at a time with several training sessions in a day.
One of the most crucial aspects of training was walking the dog because tired animals are more receptive to training, Cheryl said.
The family also recently adopted a 5-year-old large black labrador named Manu that is not involved in any guide training.
“[Morgan] walked them more than I did once we had both of them,” Cheryl said. “He definitely was a big part of [Enya’s] training.”
Cheryl said Guiding Eyes’ formal training lasts between four and six months, depending on what each dog specializes in.
Volunteers are typically invited to attend the graduation ceremony of the dog that they helped to raise, which typically commences approximately six months after sending the dog to Guiding Eyes, according to the organization.
Each dog is given an assessment and if they pass it, then they begin their formal training, Cheryl said.
“Guiding Eyes does dogs for visually impaired people, but they also have an autism program and then they partner with other organizations,” she explained. “If it looks like the dog isn’t going to make a good eye dog, but might make a great search and rescue dog, they might partner with the state police.”
She added that people donating their time to train dogs for Guiding Eyes receive the dogs when they are two months old and the dogs are raised for 13 to 16 months. Dogs and their trainers must attend weekly classes, which then change into bi-weekly classes when dogs reach 12 weeks old.
Linda Damato, Guiding Eyes’ director puppy program, stated in a press release that, “puppy raisers have an essential role in the journey of a Guiding Eyes dog. Without their hard work and dedication, we’d simply be unable to provide guide dogs to people who rely on them.”
Guiding Eyes’ puppy raising program consists of more than 400 volunteers from Maine to North Carolina from all walks of life, including young adults, senior citizens, families, and couples living in urban, suburban, and rural areas, according to the organization.
Anyone interested in becoming a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind can contact Lillian Busse, regional coordinator at email@example.com or 860-618-0477.
Classes take place on Monday evenings in Avon and Granby, CT.
For more information in Guiding Eyes for the Blind, visit www.guidingeyes.org.