When we think about dogs that help those with disabilities, we often think about the ones that provide comfort to their owners. There are also plenty of dogs that are trained specifically for various issues, from severe diabetes to epileptic seizures and PTSD. Perhaps some of the first dogs that were trained to help people were trained to help those who are blind.
Morgan Kowalski is somebody who knows this quite well, as she has been raising numerous puppies for the New York-based organization, Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She started doing so when she graduated from high school in 2018.
At this time, she is raising her third puppy for the blind.
Each puppy arrives at her home when it is about eight or 10 weeks old. She teaches the dog how to socialize, to behave, to have house manners, and to understand basic commands. One of those commands that are often not part of basic training is the “over command.” It triggers the dog to roll on its side so the owner can easily put on a harness.
Prior to working with dogs on her own, training took place for about a month from someone with the Cleveland West Region of Guiding Eyes. They gave that one-on-one training when the first dog arrived, a yellow Labrador named Becky.
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Kowalski is currently attending Cleveland State University and Becky went to class with her frequently. She was a welcome addition and everyone fell in love with her. After training Becky for about 17 months, the dog went to New York to receive specialized training with a blind owner.
Kowalski admitted that she cried a lot at first but she was happy with what was taking place. Becky is now with her blind owner and living in Vermont.
Robin, another yellow lab, was Kowalski’s second puppy and they spent about six months together. Robin was exceptional in both her temperament and her health so she was sent to live with a foster family and served as a brood.
These days, Kowalski is treating Hagrid, a black German shepherd, and she is working along with someone else to raise the dog.
Kowalski expects to train Hagrid for about 17 months. It seems as if he is easy to work with and mellow, so he will be ready to go off for special training at that point.
At this time, Kowalski is going to college for both education and biology. She hopes to be a teacher when she graduates. She also is working at the Medina Community Recreation Center, and Hagrid benefits from a lot of walks through local parks.
Part of the training process is to teach the dog how to behave in public. Hagrid enjoys going to Walmart, Target, and Marshall’s. He also loves Starbucks because he is able to enjoy a “Pup Cup.”
Along with training Hagrid, they also have a miniature schnauzer in the home. Her mother is on board with the process and works along with the dogs to provide training.
According to Cleveland.com, they asked Kowalski how the public should interact with the puppies. She responded and said that it would be nice if people would ask before they came up and started petting the dog. She will likely say, “yes,” and consider it to be a part of the training. If the dog is having a bad day, however, they may get a different answer.
Hagrid is also going to be a helper for a blind individual. He will offer that person the opportunity to have a level of independence that would be impossible otherwise. Interestingly, the cost to train a dog is about $50,000, but there is no cost to the recipient of the dog.
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