The Moving Reason This Family Takes In Puppies Just To Give Them Away

"The first life this pup will change is yours."

Mom Lisa Bumbalo and her son Collin Wright, 17, know that guide dogs can be a life-changing addition to a person who is visually impaired. That's why the duo have spent the last few  years working together as puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind — a program that "works to enrich the lives of the blind and visually impaired by providing them with superbly bred and expertly trained guide dogs."

Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright
Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright

The mom and son are currently raising their fourth dog, Rain. 

"It all started with the loss of a beloved family pet dog. It took us, as a family, awhile to get past pets moving on, so we started looking into puppy raising groups, where we would have a dog for a period of time without having to see them die," Wright tells A Plus in an email.  "As very much a dog family, we were desperate to find a solution to the life cycle of our pets. We stumbled across Guiding Eyes for the Blind at a local promotional event and looked into it a little more."

"After talking it over as a family, we decided it made the most sense to take on becoming puppy raisers."

According to the Guiding Eyes for the Blind website, puppies that are selected as future Guiding Eyes dogs are placed in puppy raisers' homes for 12 to 18 months. The goal is for the puppy raisers to teach socialization skills and give the dog as many experiences as possible.

The puppies that make it into the program are from Guiding Eyes' breeding colony, and are tested for temperament and personality so they can be paired with the best puppy raisers for them. The dogs are typically placed with families at 2 to 3 months until they're 15 to 17 months old.

To ensure success, pups attend hour-long classes on a weekly basis when they're very young. As they get older, they transition to classes twice a month. 

"The time in the puppy program is the only time that the pups learn the things we teach them, so it's critical that we are as consistent as possible," Bumbalo tells A Plus. "If we let something slide once, they may never unlearn that behavior, which might make for some challenges later. The trainers at Guiding Eyes need to know that the pups have solid skills and house manners so they can focus exclusively on teaching the dog how to guide."

Sometimes, the dogs that are raised go to work, but not as guide dogs because they've shown more aptitude for other careers. For example, Bumbalo says some work in detection or other types of service "so they will all be changing someone's life."

Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright
Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright

"Being introduced to the rest of the puppy raising group, and the rest of the program's community, was a big part that made us feel welcome and provided a drive to find success with the dogs," Wright explains. "The experience with Mario [the first dog the family raised] was certainly positive and something we definitely wanted to do again."  

Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright
Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright

Seeing the dogs "graduate" after the training is a special moment for the family. "Watching Rumor [the second dog the family trained] graduate filled us with such pride," recalls Bumbalo. "It's like watching a child graduate — it is that powerful." 

Meeting and visiting the new dog owners varies on the type of training the dog receives as well as the preferences of the handler. For example, Wright and Bumbalo got to meet Rumor's new handler at graduation — a teenage girl named Amy, who now often shares videos and photos of the dog. 

It's not just the relationship with the dogs the mom and son cherish, but the time they get to spend bonding with each other. 

"He's a pretty special kid — he's humble and kind with a quick sense of humor," says Bumbalo of her son. "Between being proud of the dogs we are raising and being proud of him, how can I go wrong?"

Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright
Courtesy of Lisa Bumbalo and Collin Wright

The experience has been equally invaluable to Wright who says he plans on doing a multi-year apprentice program after he graduates college to learn to be a harness trainer.

Those who want to get involved with Guiding Eyes for the Blind themselves can help with fundraising, volunteering, naming puppies, puppy sitting, and becoming puppy raisers. For anyone aspiring to be a puppy raiser, the pair offer some words of advice:

"Raising guide dogs is no easy task. There are countless times when hanging up the leash seems like a logical solution to a challenging day," Wright states. "However, it is,  without a doubt, the most positive, fulfilling thing I have done thus far."

"Puppy raising is a powerful, rewarding experience. You get into it hoping to change someone's life. What you don't realize is that the first life this pup will change is yours."

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