Woman raises puppies to help show the way

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FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — One day, the cuddly and awkward 3-week-old black Labs might serve as guides for the visually impaired. But these days, the seven puppies in a makeshift pen in Bev Carlson’s kitchen do little more than crawl, feed, play with Mrs. Carlson’s 3-year-old daughter, Mia, and sleep.

“They get more exposure in a home than in a kennel,” Mrs. Carlson said.

A week and a half after the puppies were born, Mrs. Carlson drove to Yorktown Heights, N.Y., to bring them to her home. She also brought their mother, Flurry, who is 5 and whom Mrs. Carlson raised for most of her 18 months as a guide dog.

Flurry tested so well as a guide that Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which owns her, decided to use her in its breeding program. Most of the time, Flurry lives as a pet in New York City.

But Mrs. Carlson enjoys having Flurry back while the dog is nursing the puppies. “I love this age,” Mrs. Carlson said, glancing at the crate of wriggling puppies. “They’re old enough to get around, yet still at that awkward stage.”

Confidence is one of the most required traits in a guide dog, according to Linda Damato, regional marketing manager for Guiding Eyes. “They need to be able to make decisions,” she said.

About 50 percent the dogs raised in the guide-dog program become guide dogs for the blind; others become police dogs or bomb-sniffing dogs.

Those dogs that don’t make it become family pets, like Mrs. Carlson’s 11-year-old Lab, Paula. She was Mrs. Carlson’s first dog for the Guiding Eyes program. Paula was a little too laid back to become a guide dog, but has been a delightful family pet, Mrs. Carlson said. “If you threw a ball, Flurry would run right after it,” she said. “Paula could care less.”

Mrs. Carlson had better success with other puppies that have grown up to become guide dogs, and now she plans to take care of each of Flurry’s litters.

The puppies curiously approached the camera when they were being photographed. “That’s what you want to see in a puppy,” Mrs. Carlson said.

It costs about $45,000 to raise a guide dog, which are provided free to the blind. Some veterinary and food costs are donated.

The puppies will go back to New York in two weeks. From there, they will go to homes, where they’ll stay for 18 months while learning basic guide-dog skills. During training, the dogs will be exposed to different situations and will learn to focus and to listen, even when around a lot of noise and activity.

At 18 months, the dogs return to the center in Yorktown Heights for several more months of training. Finally, they are paired with a blind person, who spends 26 days in training at the center with the dog.

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