NEWS & EVENTS

Guiding Eyes for the Blind Program at Hartwick College

Hartwick Partnership with Guiding Eyes for the Blind Continues to Flourish

May 6, 2013

For nearly 20 years now, puppies have been spotted throughout the Hartwick College campus. Not only are these dogs adorable, but they are also part of an incredible, life-changing organization: Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

According to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the program is "dedicated to enriching the lives of blind and visually impaired men and women by providing them with the freedom to travel safely, thereby assuring greater independence, dignity and new horizons of opportunity" - and the Hartwick puppy raisers and sitters continue to help make that happen.

Currently, 10 puppies live on either the main College campus or at Hartwick's Pine Lake Environmental Campus, and are being raised and trained by Hartwick students. Once finished with the program at Hartwick, these dogs will go on to intensive training classes in order to prepare for their new lives as Guiding Eyes dogs.

GEB at HC Club MeetingPine Lake Manager of Operations Peter Blue first introduced the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program to Hartwick College with the arrival of their first puppy, Jake, in 1993. In college, Blue's wife, Deborah Hollis '74, had a roommate who was blind and had a Guiding Eyes dog. It was this experience that led the Blue family to consider raising a Guiding Eyes dog of their own.

"I love working with animals," said Blue. "By my raising these dogs, it exposed my kids and the students at Hartwick to something that improves peoples' lives and the world overall." 

Since Jake, Blue and his family have raised nearly 15 Guiding Eyes puppies for varying lengths of time.

"The program is great," continued Blue. "It is an outstanding thing for students to get involved with and it's good that Hartwick has embraced and institutionalized it to the extent that is has."

Student puppy raisers at Hartwick volunteer to partake in the program. After a rigorous selection process, the puppies are paired with those students selected and live with their raisers in their respective residence halls for the first 16 months of their lives. During this time, the dogs participate in normal day-to-day activities with the students in addition to their specialized puppy classes in order to become exposed to various settings and to learn good social skills.

GEB at HC Club Meeting

"All of my professors allow my dog to attend class with me," said co-raiser Brian Tedd '15.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind Regional Manager Joy Hawksby noted that it takes an especially dedicated student to participate in the program in addition to their studies.

"I enjoy working with the students so much," said Hawksby. "They're truly special and I admire them."

By raising a dog of her own through the program, Residence Director and Hartwick Guiding Eyes Program Liaison Jenna Ventura shared that her involvement as a staff member at Hartwick provided her with an unforgettable experience.

"Getting the chance to raise a Guiding Eyes dog was eye-opening for me," shared Ventura. "The dog, Maggie, changed my life, and I enjoy watching the partnership between Guiding Eyes and Hartwick continue to succeed."

GEB at HC Club MeetingThis past fall, the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program at Hartwick celebrated its continued success on campus with the announcement of a newly formed club, "GEB at HC," dedicated to promoting knowledge and understanding of the program and the dogs on campus, in addition to fundraising efforts.

GEB at HC provides an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of what the Guiding Eyes program is, and to learn where to get started if they want to get involved. So far, the club has put on program awareness events such as puppy "meet and greets," where students can meet the puppies and the raisers, and fundraisers for items to support the dogs such as medicines.

The club has been so popular in its first year that it recently was voted as Hartwick's 2013 Club of the Year. Rebecca Bierhoff '14, current president of GEB at HC, shared her sentiments surrounding the club's success.

"GEB at HC provides students with a great opportunity to meet those involved in the program, and gives them a way to get involved too" said Bierhoff. "The GEB at HC meetings and events have been very successful so far, with support coming from the students, the community and Student Senate, among many others."

The Guiding Eyes organization explains, "A puppy is not born a guide dog, but created through the dedication and commitment of an entire team of individuals." This makes the puppy raiser a "pivotal member of that team."

As a certified puppy sitter, Brielle Matthews '14 watches the dogs when the raisers are busy. Matthews explained what that dedication and commitment entails.

"The puppies are brought to class weekly at first, and then bi-weekly," said Matthews. "During their training-in class and with the raisers and sitters-the puppies experience every environment possible once they have their vests that certify them as in-training Guiding Eyes puppies. They have to be both comfortable and attentive in environments such as the mall, downtown, classes, and even a bathroom stall," explained Matthews. In regard to her part in the process she said, "Taking care of these dogs is hard work. I provide breaks for the raisers when they have to go somewhere where the dog cannot."

GEB at HC Club MeetingOnce the puppies have been raised, trained, and pass all of the necessary tests, they are given to the blind and visually impaired.

"I like to help people," said Tedd. "By raising a Guiding Eyes dog, I have the opportunity to make a huge, lasting impression on a person's quality of life."

Approximately half of the dogs who train through the Guiding Eyes program end up being paired with human partners. In these cases, the puppy raiser also receives the opportunity to meet the person whose life they have impacted directly by raising the puppy. Those who do not pass the required training tests can also be transferred to other academies to become drug- or bomb-sniffing specialists. Others enter the Heeling Autism Program and others still work with police and other agencies.

"The program connects you forever to these dogs and to a unique opportunity and group of friends that you can't find elsewhere," said Bierhoff. "I don't remember my life without a Guiding Eyes dog on campus."

"These dogs are tons of fun and are our best friends," concluded Matthews. "The most rewarding part of being a sitter is seeing how these dogs change lives."

Guiding Eyes is an internationally accredited, nonprofit guide dog school with a 50-plus year legacy of providing the blind and visually impaired with superior Guiding Eyes dogs, training, and lifetime support services. To view a video on the program, visit YouTube video "Impulse to Soar". For more information on how to raise a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog beyond the Hartwick College campus, contact Hawksby at (866) GEB-LABS, extension 6525 or jhawksby@guidingeyes.org.

For more information on the Guiding Eyes program at Hartwick College, contact Ventura at 607-431-4581 or venturaj@hartwick.edu.

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,500 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes an experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a distinctive January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for not just their first jobs, but for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Valerie Capullo
E-mail: capullov@hartwick.edu 
Phone: 607-431-4031