Inside the walls of Seeing Eye Dogs Australia’s breeding centre in Kensington, Melbourne herald the 72 tiny paws and 36 blinking eyes of 18 labrador retriever puppies, all making their grand entrance into the world this month and all born to make a difference.
These newest additions to the only national provider of dog guides in the country are being overseen by the dedicated Seeing Eye Dogs staff to ensure they grow up healthy, happy and ready to support people with vision impairment.
While, Saffron, a cream labrador has welcomed her third litter, Winna (cream) and Luna (black) are enjoying life as ‘first time mums.’
Manager of Dog Development for Seeing Eye Dogs Australia, Dr. Nicola Cotton says exceptional care is taken in the company’s breeding program to ensure the puppies are healthy and able to perform their service duties to the highest level.
She says the puppies’ health and temperaments are closely monitored by Puppy Development Trainers throughout their life.
“Pups undergo a series of health checks at 12 months of age and must pass all of these to be considered for the breeding program, so that we can ensure we pass on the best traits to create healthy pups,” Dr. Cotton says.
However, as it takes approximately 2 years for a puppy to become a Seeing Eye Dog, people with a vision impairment who require the support of a canine companion must join a waiting list, which currently totals approximately 50 applicants.
“We are constantly striving to reduce the waiting time,” Dr. Cotton says.
The Seeing Eye Dog Twitter page has also recently been calling out for puppy carers to foster eight week old pups until they are old enough to undergo the necessary training to become fully qualified, vision impairment support dogs.
“Volunteer carers are essential to our program as they guide the pups through the first 12-18 months of their development, learning good manners, social skills and basic obedience that will place them in good stead to go on to become a Seeing Eye Dog,” Dr. Cotton says.
But it's not just volunteer carers that Seeing Eye Dogs is making the call out for.
“We are always on the lookout for volunteers to join the team at our headquarters and there are lots of different volunteer roles from kennel assistants, driving program, administration and maintenance, among many others,” Dr. Cotton says.
And it doesn’t come cheap. Notably, it costs roughly $50,000 to train a Seeing Eye Dog.
“People can also make donations that contribute towards the health care and training of Seeing Eye Dogs, or become a puppy sponsor,” she says.
Coordinator of Volunteers and Carer Program at Seeing Eye Dogs Australia, Lauren Cockerell notes fostering a puppy benefits the carer as well, as you learn how to train a dog, remain fit and social and enjoy the unconditional love a dog provides.
“These unique dogs allow our clients to participate fully in everyday life, assisting them to travel independently to work, the shops and social events,” Ms Cockerell.
From eight weeks up until approximately 12-15 months of age, puppy carers are required to provide a loving home, walk and socialise the puppy in everyday situations and teach basic skills.
In return they will receive food, equipment, training and support from Seeing Eye Dogs Australia.
For more information on the puppy carer program click here.