Agriculture business senior and PolyPups treasurer Skyler Picanso is raising her first guide dog, Heron. Picanso said she looks forward to Heron’s graduation, where the puppy will walk with its new handler.
“Being able to give the dog back and hopefully make an impact on someone’s life would be amazing,” Picanso said.
Approximately 50 students on campus are part of PolyPups, a new club helping train guide dogs for people who are visually impaired in partnership with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Students in PolyPups raise a puppy until it is about 15 months old. During this time, the puppy-raiser will teach the puppy basic training and socialization skills. The puppies learn to readily accept commands, from verbal commands to hand signals.
After the initial socialization process, the puppy returns to Guide Dogs for the Blind for formal harness training.
“People who are visually impaired lose a lot of freedom,” animal science sophomore and PolyPups co-president Jenna Reimer said. “When you give them a working guide, they gain freedom and independence in their life.”
To become a puppy raiser, a student must attend three consecutive meetings, puppy-sit for five nights and undergo a house evaluation to ensure their living space is suitable for a puppy.
PolyPups has six dogs and about 50 members. At their weekly meetings, the club informs new members about how the club works and assists puppies in their training.
“It’s definitely hard to raise a dog for a year and then say goodbye,” Reimer said. “You really bond with the dog, but when you get to see the difference that they make, it’s totally worth it.”