What’s New on Campus? Guiding Eye’s for the Blind

Doesn’t it feel like the summer went by so fast? Before students can even blink, we’ve already been thrusted back into Bridgewater State University; before the first sign of falling leaves can even hit the ground. Though classes can be tough, there are many clubs and organizations that students can get involved in to lighten the stressful load of writing papers, finishing projects, and getting assignments in during strict deadlines. 

Well, I can’t think of anything better to relieve the stress than one thing I know that everyone loves, puppies! 

That’s right, there is a new organization on campus called Guiding Eyes for the Blind! This organizations goal is to get students to help train these pups to become seeing eye dogs. Brian Payne, a professor at Bridgewater State University, has been actively involved in trying to make this dream a reality. 

Recently, I interviewed Payne and asked varying questions about the organization itself and how students can get involved with this program. This is what he had to say. 

Oppenheimer: What is the Guiding Eyes for the Blind? What do they do and what is their purpose or goal in creating this organization?  

Payne: Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a non-profit organization that breeds, raises, and trains service dogs for the visual impaired while also providing training and support for those people who receive a dog from the organization. Guiding Eyes for the Blind relies heavily on its more than 1,400 volunteers.  It cost about $50,000 to breed, train, and support a service dog throughout its career and a big part of this is absorbed by the volunteer puppy raisers. 

I hope that by creating a Bridgewater State University chapter of puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind I can create a mutually valuable partnership. GEB is always in need of puppy raisers and a campus environment is an ideal place to start the training of a service dog.  Training a service dog will provide BSU students a valuable and rewarding volunteer opportunity that teaches them dedication, patience, and the value of giving so much time and energy to better someone else’s life.  You cannot underestimate just how valuable service dogs are to those with vision loss. Besides, just having a few cute little puppies on campus is sure to brighten the day. 

 Oppenheimer: What inspired you to start (or bring) this organization to BSU? 

 Payne: When I found out that other universities are doing this and knowing just how committed the BSU community is to service, I just knew that the university and the students would jump at this opportunity.  I have already had over 90 students express interest.  A university campus is an ideal place to start the training.  You have a real diversity of environments to work in and so many opportunities to expose the puppies to all that they might have to deal with as guide dogs. 

 Oppenheimer: What opportunities can students expect from this organization and how can they get involved? 

 Payne: GEB relies upon a wide diversity of volunteers and there are many opportunities for students to get involved.  We’re looking to get two to three students to co-raise a puppy for about 12 months beginning in the summer of 2020.  Beyond these, we will need students to help as puppy sitters and to work with socialization exercises.  I think the best ‘next step’ is to find a few students who are particularly enthusiastic about this program and to help them organize a student club.  This club will handle all the logistics and create a host of on-campus activities that involve the puppies, the raisers, the other volunteers, and the wider campus community. 

 Oppenheimer: How will this program work in the future? Do the students train the dogs? Are there meetings that we must attend every week? Are we allowed to keep these dogs in our dorm rooms? What’s the process, the plan for this organization on campus? 

 Payne: The process is long. Every student will go through a pre-puppy placement training during which GEB will teach the applicant how to train a puppy.  There is a lot of information to absorb.  Then every student will attend an existing GEB class and interact with the current raisers and their puppies.  Then every student will sit a puppy that is already in our region; probably a puppy nearing the end of their training.  Finally, students will be partnered up in pairs or groups of three and be given a puppy that will most likely have already been “started” by another raiser.  This way a new raiser (student) will be given a puppy that is hopefully past some of its earliest challengeslike house training.  The students will share responsibilities, each taking the puppy into their dorm rooms for two weeks at a time. 

 Once the students have the puppies, they will attend weekly training and socialization classes on campus and every other Saturday we will travel to the regional training event, which is normally somewhere around Boston.  We often meet at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton.  At these sessions the students will work with a professional trainer who works for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  It’s important for everyone to know that the students aren’t just given puppies.  There is a lot of assistance and oversight.  This is a serious affair and not one anyone should take lightly. 

 Oppenheimer: And finally, do you have anything else you want to say to the readers of The Comment that could inspire them to get involved with Guiding Eyes for the Blind? 

 Payne: Training a puppy can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, but it can also be one of the hardest.  You give A LOT of time and energy to these little guys and it can be really frustrating at times, but there are so many rewarding moments that it’s all worth it. Just this past Saturday I was working with a GEB trainer and my puppy, Dory, and I could see the puppy deeply thinking about what it was I was asking her to do and working so hard to figure it out. It was such a joy to see her think through the challenge and make the right decision. It can be really impressive what these dogs can do. 

 What I like most about doing this is interacting with a community of people who are deeply dedicated to helping others.  You can never lose sight of just how valuable a guide dog is to a blind person and how impossible it would be without the hard work of the puppy raisers.  Saying ‘goodbye’ to a puppy that you’ve cared for, loved, really, for a year is very hard, but the sadness is lessened by knowing just what a great service you’ve done and just how much better someone else’s life is going to be. I like to say that anyone can do this, but that it takes a special person to do this.  You don’t need any previous training or experience, but you need a lot of time, patience, and love to make it work. 

If anyone has any questions about the program, you can email Professor Payne at brian.payne@bridgew.edu. 

Professor Payne has also planned meeting times for the information sessions involving the organization. These dates can be found below. 

Monday, September 30, 7:00pm-9:00 in Library 008 

Wednesday, October 2, 7:00pm-9:00pm in Library 008 

Thursday, October 3, 7:00pm-9:00pm in Library 007

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