- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - After months of preparation, five eager teens from the agriscience magnet program at Madison High School were finally receiving their special delivery at the Northeast Side campus.

A van with the image of a giant puppy splayed on its sides turned into the parking lot, bearing five dogs flown from San Rafael, California, to San Antonio by Guide Dogs for the Blind.

“Come on down,” GDB community field representative Sandi Alsworth said that early June morning, motioning to the girls, who were standing in the shade of the agriscience building. Each girl stepped up to take her 8-week-old dog clad in a green vest. Katie Hunt took Noni, Estella Closner cradled Nautica, Kayleigh Mungia held Norton, Amantha Cochran-Howard scooped up Navy and Marina Orillane took Naples.

“I’m very excited,” Estella, 17, told the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1dJtm0n) as Nautica howled in the air. “I hope I teach her what she needs to be taught.”

The four juniors and one senior will enter the new school year with the dogs by their sides in NEISD’s first guide dog program. The teens underwent a rigorous selection process and passed a GDB exam to be chosen as volunteers in the puppy-raising program. Armed with organized training and a manual, they’ll be responsible for providing the pups a nurturing environment and teaching them basic obedience and good manners.

The teens cradled the puppies in their arms as Alsworth gave them the first of several sessions geared to help them successfully raise the dogs. After 15 to 17 months, the dogs will return to the GDB campus, where they will enter guide dog training. The puppy raisers will be invited to graduation ceremonies to present the dogs they’ve cared for to their new owners.

The school was founded in 1942 and initially operated out of a rented house in Los Gatos, California, helping wounded servicemen who had lost their sight during World War II. Since then, GDB has created more than 12,500 partnerships between guide dogs and blind or visually impaired clients across the United States and Canada. The service is free for people admitted to the program.

According to GDB, there are more than 1,400 puppy-raising families in nine states, including Texas. Currently there are 2,100 guide dog teams in the field.

“It is a family project,”Alsworth said. “It’s imperative that the dogs have excellent house behavior and it’s important everyone in the home knows the expectations and understands the rules for a puppy in a home.”

Janell McMullan, veterinary science instructor, said she was approached last March by Barbara Chandler from the San Antonio Guide Dog program after Chandler heard about the Madison FFA team’s national win for their veterinary science program.

McMullan said the students are responsible for providing food, lodging, bedding and toys, and the FFA is planning fundraisers to help with expenses. GDB provides basic veterinary care, dog transportation, equipment and training support.

“It’s a large commitment for the students,” she said. “The majority of our kids who raise livestock, the maximum commitment would be about a year.”

After the teens separated to spend time with their new charges, Kayleigh, 17, with Norton in her lap, sat next to her mother, April Mungia.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Mungia said. “But it’s her responsibility.”

Kayleigh, the only senior on the team, said she was a bit overwhelmed when the van arrived, but once she hugged Norton everything felt right.

“It hits you like, I’m one of the five that made it,” Kayleigh said. “I’ll have a lot on my plate.”

She has previously raised swine and rabbits, and works at a veterinary clinic.

Alsworth has volunteered with guide dogs with for 22 years and has worked with GDB for 18 years. She said currently more than 50 students across Texas volunteer with the puppy-raising program.

“This is all voluntary,” Alsworth said as tears welled in her eyes. “This is done out of the goodness of these kids’ hearts. This is truly giving at its highest, they get nothing from this but the joy in their hearts and changing someone’s life.”

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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