Wanted: Homes for guide pups

Help these little guys to help someone else

TROELS SOMMERVILLE
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2011

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Their futures will be devoted to guiding the blind but right now they're just puppies in need of a home.

About 30 labrador puppies at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind's guide dog centre in Manurewa will be looking for foster families over the next three months.

Exploring the world with foster families - also known as puppy walkers - is a vital step in the puppies' development as guide dogs, co-ordinator Paula Gemmell says.

"The more places you can take a puppy the better because you're getting the dog used to different smells, noises and situations."

As long as they've got their bibs on, guide puppies can go anywhere from cinemas to shopping malls.

About 80 of them are in training around Auckland at the moment, watching Harry Potter and shopping for treats.

Puppies that grow up with a wide experience of the outside world fare better as guide dogs than those raised in kennels, Gemmell says.

They leave the guide dog centre at around eight weeks old and return from their foster family a year later for the next stage of training.

During their training the puppies are assessed on 65 personality and temperament traits, 13 health aspects and 21 guiding tasks.

It's a tough business. Only about half of the puppies make it through to become guide dogs.

But Gemmell says those that miss the cut still have career options with other agencies - and some even go back to their foster families.

Looking after what will effectively become someone else's eyes is a big responsibility so all prospective foster homes are carefully screened in advance.

People keen to be puppy walkers need to remember that puppies don't stay small and cuddly forever, Gemmell says.

"The cute little eight-week-old pup jumping up on you and licking you very quickly turns into a 30kg dog."

Foster families that do get the big tick also get help with all their doggie needs like food, leashes and vet care.

They won't, however, get any compensation for anything the puppies decide needs chewing.

Gemmell says people become puppy walkers for many reasons but whatever the reason, they all make a difference.

And there's a special treat in the latest litter - chocolate coloured puppies for the first time in 10 years.

FOSTER HOME CHECKLIST:

- No more than one preschooler at home.

- No more than one other dog in the house.

- A fully fenced and dog-secure section.

THEY MUST ALSO BE ABLE TO:

- Drive and have a car that the puppy can travel in.

- Walk the puppy about 5km per day.

- Puppy walkers shouldn't work fulltime and need enough spare time to socialise with the puppy.

Contact the Guide Dog Centre on 269-0400 or gds@rnzfb.org.nz for more information.

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- Manukau Courier

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