In the midst of busy class schedules, meetings, homework and other activities, you might spot a puppy on campus every once in a while. Some of them might be enjoying the grass on the UA Mall — but some come to campus to learn.
As part of the University of Arizona's Cooperative Extension, students and employees bring the puppies to campus for Paws for the Cause, a 4-H club where the dogs are raised from the ages of 8 weeks to 14 months to be guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired. Paws for the Cause partners with a nonprofit organization, Guide Dogs for the Blind, based in northern California and Oregon.
Paws for the Cause volunteer trainers, or puppy raisers, are responsible for teaching the puppies good manners and basic obedience. The raisers also have to train the dogs on how to socialize in busy environments, preparing them for life as guide dogs. The club meetings, which take place several times a month, help by scheduling organized outings. Destinations can be the Pima County Fair, the theater, the shopping mall, even the campus.
"The UA is very supportive of community service," says Marcus Railsback, a sophomore in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and a first-time puppy raiser. "Raising a guide dog, it is very important that they get out and experience real-world scenarios such as sitting in a classroom all day where that could relate to an office experience, getting them to behave all day, walking around campus all day meeting hundreds of people on their way to different classes. It's a great way that the University allows us to give the dogs a good experience in training."
The meetings also offer a place of support for help in dealing with behaviors a puppy might be struggling with. During this time, raisers also work on calming the dogs. Currently, four UA students are involved in Paws for the Cause.
Joanna Norman, co-leader for the club, encourages members of the community to get involved in different ways. They can become puppy raisers themselves. For those who aren't able to take on the commitment, they can still participate by being a dog sitter or by going to the one-hour meetings to help with socialization and scenario training.
After a little over a year, the puppies go back to Guide Dogs for the Blind in California or Oregon to receive their formal training in guide work. Then they are paired with their owner for no cost.
"To be a puppy raiser, there aren't really special qualifications, you just need to live somewhere where you can have a dog, you need to attend puppy meetings for about six months so that you've learned all the training techniques that we use with raising the guide dog puppies, and then just be willing to have a dog by your side 24/7," Norman said.
For more information on how to train a guide dog and be connected to Paws for the Cause, call Guide Dogs for the Blind at 800-295-4050.