By CHRISTINA WOOD
Of the Baker City Herald
Guide dogs, those animals trained to assist the legally blind, have a big presence in Baker City and the surrounding areas.
Several city residents rely on these lifetime partners for increased mobility.
And the local 4-H Club, Seeing Is Believing, is active in training dogs and assists the guide dog program through fund raising and public support.
Vicki Maddox, a local 4-H dog handling trainer, leads a weekly class for the 4-H handlers and assists in the training of guide puppies.
Two of her students, Chris Nantz of Imbler and Sheila Holman of Baker City, recently accepted responsibility for two new guide dog puppies.
Nantz, 19, and a senior at Imbler High School, has a 14-week-old black labrador puppy, Francisco. Holman took charge of a golden retriever named Ajani.
Nantz is assisted in his chores by his 11-year-old brother, Andrew. Andrew is legally blind, and Nantz said he was inspired to raise guide puppies to help his bother and others.
Part of it was my brother, he said, but Ive always wanted to raise guide dog puppies to help the blind.
Nantz and his mother, Sherry, drive to Baker City from Imbler every week to attend the special puppy classes for guide dogs after the regular 4-H handling class on Tuesday evenings at Churchill School.
Francisco is Nantzs second puppy. His first, Rigby, was a golden lab who is now in Phase Three of his guide dog training at the organizations Boring campus. If Rigby passes this phase, he will be matched to a blind person and trained to form a life-long partnership between human and animal.
Raising guide puppies is really a family project, said Maddox. All members of the family must become committed to the care and handling of the puppy, since the animal will become a part of its final owners home in a way few pet dogs enjoy.
This means sleeping in the home, usually in the bedroom of the handler; having special meal times; consistent care and treatment from all members of the family; and being taken by its raiser to as many family activities and events as possible.
Since guide dogs are allowed into nearly every type of business or office in the state, the puppy must learn to behave under diverse circumstances. Puppies go to school, attend church services, go to local restaurants, attend public meetings, go to work, go shopping in stores, travel on all public transportation in short, accompany their handlers anywhere a blind person might need its guidance someday.
Nantz has used his experience with Rigby to write his senior class project on the experiences of raising the dog. The project consists of many photographs of Rigby, Nantzs home and family, the special equipment and training Rigby needed to become familiar with.
Nantz presented his project in school on April 12.
Holmans Ajani is her seventh puppy. The dogs French name means he who succeeds in a struggle. Holman, who is now retired from federal service, took her puppies to work both in the office and in the field. Her dogs became used to being in the out-of-doors and learned not to react to wild animals and adverse weather conditions. This type of individualized training is not possible in cities and in institutional environments.
Maddox said there is always a demand for puppy raisers willing to commit to a one year project, but recently she was called by a representative of Guide Dogs in San Rafael, Calif.
I was told the need for new puppy people is greater than ever, Maddox said. The number needed has remained steady for the past few years, but there is an especially large number of qualified puppies this year needing raisers.
If you are interested in becoming a puppy handler and are willing to commit to the full year with weekly meetings and activities, Maddox invites you to give her a call at 523-9020.