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Raising puppies to become guide dogs for the blind

A local nonprofit, Guiding Eyes For The Blind, is giving the visually impaired a life of independence.

PORTLAND, Maine — This is the time of year when a lot of families consider getting a puppy and giving it a forever home. But, each year, in dozens of homes across Maine, people are getting a puppy, keeping it for just a little while, and then giving it away. 

They're part of the Guiding Eyes For The Blind program, and the work they do not only helps the visually impaired here in Maine but all over New England.

The Guiding Eyes for the Blind program is changing people's lives, and Pauline Lamontagne is one of them. 

Pauline was born legally blind at birth. 

She's never let being visually impaired stop her.

"I was the first legally blind student to graduate from the University of Maine School of Law and then worked to try to informally resolve issues between parents and the school systems," Pauline said. 

Over the years, right by her side, has been a string of guide dogs, four of them, each giving her a life of independence.

She said that with her guide dog, Ava, she could walk to work.

"With a guide dog, we are able to go faster than with the white cane," said Pauline. 

Before they could guide her, they needed training from people like Sarah.

"People, when they find out we are fostering dogs, they ask, 'Isn't it hard to give them up in the end?' It is and it isn't, just knowing what great things they are going to do in the world is just an amazing feeling. It makes the whole experience worth it. It makes letting them go worth it," Sarah Darhower, guide dog trainer, said. 

Around 20 people in Maine are raising the puppies.

On average, it costs about $40,000 to train just one dog. But clients, like Pauline, don't pay a dime. While the help the dogs provide is priceless.  

If you think you'd like to volunteer to train a Guide Dog here in Maine, you can go to the website www.guidingeyes.org

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