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Student Raises A Pup with Purpose

Like many children, this time last year then-fourth grader Raelene Brooks was hoping to get a puppy. Not just any puppy, though, a Pilot Dog puppy. She first heard about Pilot Dogs from her mother, Kristin, who trained Pilot Dogs when she was a young girl. “I heard my mom’s stories of training Pilot Dogs and thought it was cool, and I wanted to be able to help someone.”

Pilot Dogs Inc. is a Columbus-based non-profit organization dedicated to training and providing guide dogs for the qualified sightless. The program relies on volunteer puppy raisers to raise them in homes for their first year of life, to learn basic socialization, become accustomed to walking on a leash, attend obedience training and provide for their overall health.

Raelene wanted the experience of having a puppy and training it. She’d asked her dad if she could get a puppy, but his initial answer was “no” because they already had two dogs in their home. So Raelene decided to follow the advice of her mom, “My mom told me that if I really want something I should pray for it.”

And that’s just what Raelene did. For over two months Raelene prayed that she would be able to have a Pilot Dog puppy in her home.

“I prayed that God would change my mind or change my dad’s mind…I didn’t get an answer [immediately], but I kept having dreams that I got one.” She even went so far as to research the program, write a report on it, and present the report to her dad. The morning after she presented the research to her dad, she woke up to find the report with her dad’s signature on it. She was thrilled to know that her prayers had finally been answered.

So in February of this year, Raelene welcomed her first Pilot Dog puppy, Daisy Mae, into her home. While having a puppy sounds like all fun, training a Pilot Dog requires quite a bit of work. In addition to the daily care required of any puppy like food, potty/crate-training, and exercise, Raelene has had to take Daisy Mae to obedience and training classes up to three times per week.

While Raelene already knew what it was like to own and care for dogs (having two of her own), raising Daisy Mae has been a learning experience. As a future guide dog, Daisy Mae needs extra praise and positive reinforcement for desired behaviors, i.e. more treats than the average pup. She also must be trained to sit under a chair when people are eating (so as to not be in the way) and learn the difference between “work mode” (wearing a harness, not socializing or playing) and “pet mode” (typical in-home socializing and playing). Raelene is also required to write monthly progress reports to the Pilot Dogs organization, keeping track of how Daisy Mae is doing in her obedience classes, on walks, and more.

Perhaps the most difficult part of training Daisy Mae, though, is yet to come: giving her back next month. “I think I’m going to be sad and happy at the same time…I’m already sad because I know one day she won’t be there to wake me up for school or greet me when I come home from school. But I’ll also be glad I did it because I can give someone else another set of eyes to help them.”

In spite of the work it takes, Raelene wouldn’t trade her Pilot Dog experience and hopes to continue doing it in the future. She explains, “The best part of this experience is having the ability to experience getting a puppy, training it, and helping someone…I am really glad I get to provide someone with another set of eyes.”

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