Local 6th grade student trains Guide Puppies for the Blind

Sunday, May 29, 2011

By Marge Mueller, Richmond Beach Community News

When sixth grader Meredith Rand presents her school service project at Highland Terrace Elementary on June 2nd, she will be showing an activity that is very special to her. For a year, Meredith was a “puppy sitter,” caring for and training a Guide Puppy for the Blind.

Meredith became interested in Guide Puppies through her school’s nurse, who has been a puppy sitter. Working through Guide Puppies of Seattle, Meredith learned about the requirements for puppy sitting, her family was evaluated, and eventually she met Fergie, her charge. She was shown how to train the dog in weekly meetings of the group. The dogs used in the program are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, or lab/golden mixes. They are raised with their mothers until they are eight weeks old, and then are ready for their new home.

Meredith and Fergie.  Photo courtesy Richmond Beach Community News.

Meredith’s task was to provide Fergie with a nurturing home for one year and teach her basic hand motion commands such as “sit,” stay,” “wait,” “down,” and “do your business.” One of Meredith’s early mishaps was early on, when a not-as-yet-trained Fergie “did her business” on the floor of Home Depot.

When the dogs are out in the community they wear a small green jacket identifying them as Guide Puppies for the Blind. When wearing the jacket, they can go anywhere that a guide dog can go: stores, parks, restaurants, or schools. Part of Merideth’s job is to share information about the dogs with the community. She has a card with a photo of the dog and information about the training program, which she gives to interested people.

After a year of training, the dog is evaluated, and if it is ready, it is recalled and goes to “doggie college” where it is taught more advanced skills for three to four months. Meredith admits that it was a sad time for her when Fergie was recalled; however, she hopes to get another puppy. Some people she knows have raised nine or ten pups.

If the dog advances through all eight stages of training, it is ready to begin its job assisting a sight impaired person. Fergie, the puppy that Meredith trained, successfully completed her full training program, and now is assisting a young woman in Florida. Dogs that, for some reason, are unable to complete the program can become part of different programs, such as therapy dogs, or might become pets of their original family.

Contact information for puppy raising and other programs can be found at the website Guide Dogs for the Blind or call 800-295-4050.


Anonymous,  May 30, 2011 at 10:48 PM  

Yeah Meredith and Fergie!!

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