How Guiding Eyes for the Blind Helps to Expand One’s Accessibility to Experience the World

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Liz was excited to meet her puppy Denver's new pet parent, Dave. Credit: Courtesy of Liz Staryak

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a 501c3 that has been around in New York for more than 65 years and places about 150 sight dogs each year in homes for those in need of sight guidance. Puppy Raiser volunteers help by caring for and training Labrador retrievers and German Shepherds to help provide independence for their new pet parents.

Liz Staryak has been a puppy raiser since 2016 and continues to help with her husband, Adam

Staryak, in New York City. She just received her 7th puppy and is in love with her volunteer work.

“So, one of the things that we joke about is that puppy raising is one of the most selfish volunteer things you can ever do,” she said. “You get these adorable fluff balls. And you get to see them grow up. Then you can watch them think through things and problem solve.”

Liz (left) and Adam (right) Staryak have been volunteering for the organization for years.

Puppy raisers help to raise these puppies until they are about two years old, and then they go into their formal Guide Dog training. From there, they are matched with someone who needs a guide dog. Even though some may feel too intimidated to volunteer, Adam Staryak thinks there are many resources for those interested in becoming a Puppy Raiser, Brood & Stud Fostering, or Home & Early Socialization.

“One of the nice things is that no matter what kind of time commitment you give, you can still give back to Guiding Eyes,” he said. “If you only have a weekend, you could take them (puppy) for a ‘sit,’ or you could do socialization from when they're a puppy- before they go on a program.”

For the organization, there is a need for volunteers who can watch the puppies and get them to get used to a community setting with socialization before they start Guide Dog Training. So it can be a weekend at a loving home, playing in a backyard, or going on a small hike.

“It’s not always this long-term commitment,” Adam said. “Obviously, if you enjoy it, you can. But it's so simple that you could do a weekend, take a month, or whatever time you can spare for them. Oh,…13 days? Perfect! We'll find something that fits that schedule.”

Adam and Liz are expecting a baby in a couple of weeks, but that will not change how they train the puppies.

“One of the things that's great about being a Puppy Raiser is that there's this vast puppy sitter network,” she said. “And these are people who are trained by Guiding Eyes. Because one of the things that they do with puppies on programming is that they're very consistent, so it doesn't matter if the dogs are with you or if the dogs are with me- the rules are always the same. We're [training the puppies to] always be polite, not jumping on people, and not barking at people. We're showing polite manners across the board.”

The organization covers all the medical expenses when a volunteer becomes a Puppy Raiser. The puppy will initially come with a crate, starter food, and a welcome kit. But volunteers will provide food and buy any other accessories. 

Liz and Adam cherish every puppy they have ever raised, but there is one story Liz will always remember-her first dog, Denver.

“He was a really good dog because I did not know what I was doing,” she said. “Luckily, we have a whole regional team that we're a part of, and we would go to weekly puppy classes with our regional puppy instructor. They're not on call…but they're basically on call so that you're like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I don't know what I'm doing.’ And they're like, ‘calm down; it will be fine. We'll work with you.’”

Liz raised Denver from when he was two months to 16 months old. He then did training for six months with a guide and dog mobility trainer. After that, Denver went on to graduate and was matched with Dave, a cross-country trucker who lost his vision.

“During the Vancouver to Toronto route, he got into a horrible accident and lost his sight,” Liz said. “Dave's like, ‘you don't understand that my world was huge. I used to drive across all of Canada. And in three days, it went to two blocks with this incredibly traumatic, depressing experience for me… because my world was so big…and it got so small so quickly.’ And that's not everybody's experience, but that was his story.”

However, Liz still remembers when Denver wasn’t working with her…Dave could tell she was nearby because Denver’s tail would be out of control- but he was still calm.

“Dave was like, ‘I could tell when you guys walked into the room because his tail was just crazy…but he was still good. He was still calm…. I know you love this dog so much, but this dog is going to give me my world back. My world is going to get so much larger again because of Denver.’ And then I was crying, my sister was crying, and Denver was like… ‘What is going on?’,” she said.

Right now, there is a need for more volunteers to either become a Puppy Raiser or even a sitter. The application process is simple, and there are trainings conducted to prepare every volunteer that signs up.

“New York has some of the best people ever. And if we can match great people with a great purpose, I think that would be amazing,” she said.

If someone is interested in learning more about the organization or the variety of volunteer opportunities, click here for more information.

Denver's graduation picture with his new pet parent, Dave. Credit: Guiding Eyes for the Blind
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