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Graduation honors puppy-raisers at Guide Dogs for the Blind

On the day before graduation, Guide Dogs for the Blind Class Supervisor Keith Laber asked the recipients of the organization’s 265th graduating class if they would be willing to give up their new companions.

They’d had them for 12 days.

The answer was a resounding “no.”

He did that to illustrate what puppy-raisers for the organization go through after having their puppies for more than a year.

“The backbone of this organization is the puppy-raising community,” Laber said.

To the puppy-raisers, the graduation ceremony is a bittersweet moment. A time to say goodbye, and a time to celebrate an accomplishment.

At the organization’s final graduation of the year held Saturday, Dec. 21, Guide Dogs for the Blind celebrated the six dogs being placed in new homes, and the people who helped get them there.

One such dog was Nirvana, a female yellow Labrador retriever co-raised by Jill Dayton and her son, Dillon, of Portland, and Stephanie and Micaiah Meyer of Sandy. by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Jill and Dillon Dayton of Portland presented Nirvana, co-raised by Sandy residents Stephanie and Micaiah Meyer, to Bennet Kim of Los Angeles at the graduation ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 21.

After the graduation on Saturday, Nirvana, accompanied her new owner/teammate Bennet Kim, to their home in Los Angeles.

Nirvana is Kim’s second guide dog. Because her first dog died last year, Kim was hesitant to get a second dog. But after meeting with Nirvana at the beginning of their time on campus, she knew it was the best decision she’d made all year.

“This dog has expensive taste,” said a laughing Kim of her and Nirvana’s trip to PetSmart, where Nirvana picked out the most expensive tug toy.

“She’s going to be my motivation to continue working hard and making money.”

To a few puppy-raisers, the presentation of the dogs to their new owners was a tearful experience. But to all, a proud moment.

At the ceremony, Dayton said that after presenting Nirvana she can finally give a truthful answer to those who ask how she could possibly give up a dog. When Dayton came to meet the Guide Dog “Puppy-Truck” this month, she saw Kim and Nirvana walking across a parking lot.

“Seeing Nirvana guide her was so amazing,” she said, adding that she knew at that moment that she had done something remarkable.

Guide Dogs for the Blind Oregon Campus has been in operation since 1995. Puppies are bred in San Rafael, Calif. When they are ready, they are transported north to the Oregon Campus in Boring at 32901 S.E. Kelso Road. From there, they venture to the homes of volunteers, all over the country. Puppy trucks arrive once a month.

When the puppies are ready, they return to the Boring campus to start their formal training. For three months, they work with certified trainers, learning the ropes of being a guide dog. They also learn how to be aware of motorized vehicles and silent smart cars, how not to chase cats (with the help of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s official training, and recently dieting cat, Chester), and when to disobey commands for the safety of handlers.

At Saturday’s graduation, one of the dogs in training demonstrated some of his commands with a lap of the room, complete with obstructions. When he reached an overhead obstruction, one that is above the dog’s head, but not above the handler’s, the dog stopped.

Even after being urged “forward” by his handler, he refused to move until the person was aware of the obstacle, and they were safely around it.

Every two weeks, a new class of six students is housed on the Boring campus, getting to know and helping to train their dogs.

The future owners go through an application process that helps Guide Dogs assess their habits and lifestyle so that they can be placed with the right dog that meets their needs.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - During their two weeks of training, students and their new dogs stay in the Guide Dogs for the Blind dormitory, complete with braille library. A volunteer points out the 13 books that make up Gone with the Wind.

The owners are sponsored by the organization throughout, so that receiving and owning a guide dog is of no cost to them.

But not all of the dogs go on to careers as guide dogs. Each dog faces several stages of evaluation before they can earn certification as a guide dog. Those that don’t pass muster are offered to their raisers, a protocol that has introduced many people to permanent family companions.

One puppy-raiser said that she started volunteering because she thought she could get away with only having a dog on a part-time basis, something she realized was impossible after being offered to keep a pup she had raised.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has a thorough application process for those who would like to received a well-trained pup or a retired guide dog as a pet.