Virginia Teen Raising Fourth Guiding Eyes Puppy
by Faye Rapoport DesPres
When Ana Osowski was just two years old, her parents, Tim and Amy Osowski, learned that their daughter had an eye condition that could cause blindness. Thankfully that never happened, but as Ana grew older she decided she wanted to do something that would help visually impaired people.
"I realized what a gift it was that I still could see perfectly fine," Ana said. "It really impressed me that I had a chance to make a difference to someone who doesn’t have that ability."
When Ana was 11, her parents gave her permission to raise a puppy for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a non-profit organization and one of the world’s leading guide dog schools. Four years later the Lincoln, Va. teen is training her fourth dog, Champ.
Guiding Eyes’ Canine Development Center (www.cdc.guidingeyes.org), located in Patterson, NY, breeds Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd dogs for guide dog work. At 8-10 weeks old, the puppies are sent home with volunteers from across the Eastern Seaboard who raise the young dogs for 14-16 months. Their job is to give the puppies a lot of love and attention, while teaching them house manners and socializing them in home and community situations.
Ana, who is home schooled, spent a year researching service dog organizations at the Purcellville Library before her father heard a radio public service announcement seeking volunteers for Guiding Eyes. The organization holds regular training classes in Winchester, and puppy raisers are supported with regular guidance, training classes and free veterinary care.
"When I got the first dog, I was really young and I shared a lot of the work with my mom," Ana said. “But after that basically the dog was my responsibility. My family helped me out a lot, but it really showed me what responsibility is, to have to wake up every morning and take him out.”
Through her volunteer work, Ana has also learned dog handling skills and developed the patience necessary for the repetition and consistent handling that helps a puppy learn. She is committed to volunteering and makes sure to schedule her duties into her busy teen life.
"I am teaching the puppy basic life skills, but also learning many lessons on a personal level," she said. "A lot of people talk about service and make it seem like it’s something really easy. But it’s a lot of work to do a real service for someone -- just all of the time of effort that goes into it as a volunteer -- and that really showed me what true service is. It’s great to know that
I’m learning these things at a younger age so I can use them more throughout my life."
One of Ana’s most memorable volunteer moments was when she took her second puppy, Elton, on a Senior Guiding Eyes Class Trip. He rode the metro into Union Station with her, maneuvered a variety of stairways and was relaxed and mannerly in the crowds.
"Elton, at 13 months, had no fears, and his behavior that day made me realize that I had taught him all these lessons to prepare him for guide dog training," Ana said. When Elton graduated from Guiding Eyes in May 2006, the Osowski family had the opportunity to attend the graduation and meet Elton’s new companion, Paul, of Overland, Kan.
"One thing that really struck me when I met this person was how confident he was," Ana said.
"He seemed to have no doubts about his ability to succeed. His blindness didn't seem to slow him down much at all, and he seemed really happy and confident. That really impressed me, and it made me happy to know that was possible because he had this dog."
Ana's mother, Amy, said puppy raising has been a wonderful experience for her daughter. "I think the greatest thing Ana has gotten from this experience is her increasing amount of patience. Patience to actually get her puppy, patience with the puppy who wants to play instead of train and who wakes her up at night when she is tired, and patience when she has to do the puppy stuff now instead of later. It has been so wonderful watching Ana grow with each dog," she said.
"I truly believe that raising the puppies has been a gift on Ana’s path to adulthood," she added.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppies are raised by volunteer individuals, couples and families. The organization is currently seeking more volunteers to raise guide dog puppies that could one day become someone’s "guiding eyes." For more information, contact the Canine Development Center at 1-866-GEB-LABS, or visit the Web site at www.cdc.guidingeyes.org.