Spotlight:

Raising Good Puppies to Be Great Dogs

Photo: Club member with dog.

As you walk around campus and casually observe student puppy raisers and their charges, it's easy to detect and delight in their youthful enthusiasm for a favored activity, especially when accompanied by a frolic in the grass. But, to truly stop and spend a few moments observing the volunteers of the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club, you're struck too by their obvious affection for and commitment to their charges – cute, adorable puppies with names like Elroy, Yankee, Harper, and Oz.

True to its name, the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club raises puppies for The Seeing Eye, Inc., a private, not-for-profit organization formed in 1929 with the goal of providing dogs to serve the visually-impaired across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. In 1942, the Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program was founded in Morris County in cooperation with 4-H clubs of New Jersey.

The Rutgers chapter of the program began in 2000, and its members provide a welcoming home for puppies obtained from The Seeing Eye's breeding program. Seven or eight week old German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and crosses of these breeds, are placed with puppy raisers until they are 16 to 18 months old. Raisers train the puppies in basic obedience, house manners, how to walk on a leash, and very importantly, expose their charges to real-life situations a trained dog guide may encounter.

Photo: Club member with dog.

Club President Christopher Parrillo (SEBS '10).

One-time puppy raiser, puppy sitter, and the exotic-sounding "barkyard-coordinator", Christopher Parillo (SEBS '10), is club president for the 2009–2010 school year. He was hooked from his first semester on campus and helped raise Elroy, whom he eventually was allowed to adopt as a pet. "I became involved after meeting the members of the club outside of my freshman dorm during the club involvement fair through a program the club does each year called "Meet the Barkers," where students get to meet the puppies outside the freshman dormitories."

At Rutgers, puppies in the program are allowed to enter all university buildings, with the exception of dining halls, dormitories, and laboratories. Puppy raisers are placed in special dormitories. Parillo sees the New Brunswick campus, with its myriad buildings and events, as a good place to raise and train their puppies. "Rutgers provides a great place for the puppies because of the bus system, the large crowds of people, many crosswalks, stores, and opportunities for events to bring the puppies to."

As part of the process towards becoming Seeing Eye dogs, the students expose the puppies to crowds through various campus and off-campus events, like the Johnson & Johnson Safety Fair, Rutgers Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk, Morristown Fall Festival, Newark Liberty airport, New Jersey Devils games, and even the occasional trip to the beach.

Photo: Club members with dogs.

Club members put the dogs through their paces.

While new members learn about the club in myriad ways, including its weekly meetings, it's easy to imagine the immediate interest that the puppies generate as the raisers go about their day, puppies in tow. This seemingly innocuous daily routine, sometimes leading to comic episodes on the campus bus and even sparking interest and the occasional recruitment of a new member, is really part of the important "training" of a puppy that eventually becomes a dog guide to a visually-impaired individual.

It is that opportunity to make a difference that motivates Stephanie Roberts (SEBS '12), activities coordinator of the Rutgers Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club. "Knowing that you are giving someone the incredible gift of freedom is a great motivator. People become trapped by their blindness, always relying on others to help them get around, and our dogs are able to change that. It is wonderful to be a part of that."

If you're looking to learn more, visit the Rutgers Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club website, or you can always "meet the barkers" outside of a freshman dorm near you!

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