By Puppy Raiser Becky Wynn
I am a retired speech/language pathologist and raised my first two Future Leader Dog puppies while I was still working in the public schools in Southgate, MI. I traveled between several schools and worked with children from preschool through middle school. It was an incredible journey for all of us. My main building was an elementary school whose principal was a former Lions club member. He, as well as the school board and the special services director, were very receptive to raising a puppy in school. He said he had never seen quieter hallways than when the puppy was walking with me to the different classrooms.
I think the first puppy taught us more than we taught him. His picture hung up on the entry wall along with all the staff pictures and the students took great pride in their contribution to his training. The students named both puppies. When it was time for Mr. Webster to go to “college” (come back to Leader Dog for formal guide training), the elementary school had an awards ceremony for him. Parents came and Mr. Webster was presented with a certificate. Then we went from room to room and took off his jacket so that each student could give him a hug good-bye.
Logistically, I had a crate in each of the therapy rooms that I worked in and over time the puppy learned to lay quietly under the table while I worked with small groups of students. One 2nd grade teacher had her students describe one thing that they learned from having a Future Leader Dog puppy in school. Here are a few of my favorites:
“I learned that you can do more than collect bottle tops and soup can labels to help other people.”
“I learned that a Leader Dog can be working when he is sound asleep.”
“I learned that if you act up in the hallway the puppy acts up too, and no one wants the puppy to get in trouble.”
“I learned that Leader Dogs help blond [sic] people who can’t see.”
“I learned that puppy slobber makes your hair lay down.”
What I learned was how devoted and responsible children can be when they are part of an important project like raising a Leader Dog. They took such pride in how their behavior affected Mr. Webster’s training. They educated all visitors and their parents about proper manners around the puppy. My speech students got to help him with his “cues” (commands) and learned how important precise pronunciation had to be in order for the puppy to understand what they were asking. They learned patience by giving only one cue word and then waiting for the puppy to respond. I had autistic students who preferred to talk only to the puppy. It was an incredible education for all of us and Mr. Webster had a profound and lifelong impact.