. On the left is a black Labrador retriever lying down, looking forward and wearing a red bow on its collar with a sign that says "You're My Person" with hearts on it in front of the dog.

Hi! My name is Amy Schupska. My husband of 18 years, Andy, and I have raised 14 Leader Dog puppies. We live in Michigan near Lansing. We are currently raising Monroe, an 8-month-old male lab and golden retriever mix. I own a pet care business in my town and am also an artist.

I’ve been a puppy counselor for six years. A puppy counselor is a puppy raiser who volunteers to head up a group of puppy raisers. Puppy counselors support raisers by answering questions, and planning outings and training opportunities. I started off as the counselor for the Michigan and Ohio Independent Puppy Raiser Group for about 5 years. Because the group doesn’t live close to each other, we primarily communicated through emails and I even visited a few of them. Two years ago, I achieved my goal of becoming a local puppy counselor when I was asked to head the Michigan State University/East Lansing Group. While I enjoyed being the puppy counselor of the independent group, I really enjoy being more hands on and in person with the MSU group.

A line of people each with their own dog standing in front of some tall yellow flowers with trees in the background.I enjoy coming up with a variety of locations and experiences for the raisers and their puppies. Some of the outings include places such as the movies, baseball games, a horse farm, cider mill, going out to dinner, or even just meeting at the mall. The different locations provide a large variety of experiences for the puppies such as different surfaces for them to walk on, new things to see and smell, and sometimes even different noises. It’s crucial that Leader Dog candidates are acclimated to these types of experiences.

One of the areas of concern for raisers is when a dog is career changed. This means that the dog is not suitable to be a guide either because of a health concern or a behavioral reason. Sometimes the dogs will go into “alternative careers” such as courtroom therapy dogs for children, drug detection, an ambassador for Leader Dog, service dog, etc. Since only 11% of career changed dogs will go into alternative careers, a lot will go home to their raisers or be adopted out by the public.

A black Labrador retriever lying on the ground wearing a red bandana with a paw print that has the American flag stars and stripes inside of it.Raisers often will feel like they failed their puppy if he/she is career changed for medical or behavioral reasons. I try to remind them how wonderful it is that Leader Dog listens to each dog to see if they are capable AND enjoy the work. I’m glad that they don’t try to force the dogs into jobs they don’t enjoy.

Even when a dog is career changed, I believe the year was still productive. The raiser and puppy have still been in the public eye teaching people about visual impairments and guide dogs. A lot of people don’t know how to behave around a service dog, so it’s helpful when we can talk to them about why service dogs shouldn’t be pet or distracted. Sometimes incorporating an adult or child into feeling like they are helping to train the puppy by being a distraction, etc., can make them feel like the interaction is meaningful.

I enjoy volunteering for pet therapy with my career changed golden retriever, Sally. We have been doing pet therapy for about 8 years and have completed over 275 visits. Sally and I primarily will visit the crisis unit in the Community Mental Health Center and exam relief for students at Michigan State University. Sally is phenomenal at reading a room of people and knowing who needs some extra love and attention. She will put her paw on the person or lean into them until she feels they are doing better. Sally knows me better than myself some days!

Six people, including Amy, posing for the picture with five dogs sitting near one of the people.Through Leader Dog, I’ve encountered many fantastic dogs and people. I’ve even traveled to the other side of the world to Taiwan to visit one of the dogs we raised! I’ve talked to people in the public that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. My puppy is a bridge for conversation which I believe will help them know how to interact with someone that is visually impaired with a guide dog someday. Everyone wants to feel like they belong and are included. That includes you, me, the public, and Leader Dog clients.

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held from 6–8 p.m. via Microsoft Teams. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org for more info or join online here once the orientation starts.

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: September 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: August 3, Sept 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: June 8, August 3, Sept 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: April 13, June 8, August 3, September 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

A row of dogs stand on a floor that looks similar to a high school gym. They are looking up at the men standing beside them who are holding their leashes. The men are pictured from the waist down

By Puppy Raiser John

There is a saying among prisoners, “everyone has their own bit to do.” Some are long, some shorter, but each one is long enough (or too long) for the person it was imposed on. My bit is rapidly coming to an end. With that in mind, I’d like to look back on some moments from the past few years and attempt at putting my thoughts and feelings about going home into words.

When the doors in prison close, whether it’s count time, at night or just an opportunity to lay back, we are in our “home.” Yes, I acknowledge the school of thought that refuses to use the term “home” in reference to a cell. The thought that we don’t want to be here and are held against our will, so this cannot be “home.” I understand them, even empathize with it, I just do not subscribe to it. For me, “home” is where I live. Today, as I write this, I live in prison. Thankfully, my joy in life is not derived from my location or circumstance. Its origin is much more significant.

Like every home I’ve ever had, there will also be things about this one that I will miss. No, I am not insane. I will certainly miss things and people in prison. I’ll miss not having bills and not having to make a late-night store run for some unforeseen need. I’ll miss the simplicity of life. Most of all, I will miss the people I work within the Leader Dog [Prison Puppies] program (LDB). I’ll miss the men with whom I’ve shared laughs, tears, successes, and failures. Many of the bonds formed through LDB are lifelong friendships. I will, of course, miss the dogs.

Almost exactly two years ago, I was asked to join Leader Dog Prison Puppies with my “bunkie.” He had been approached to sign up but wouldn’t unless I was his partner. After all, we were close friends and jailing together was easy for us. After several months of training and working with older dogs, we were ready for our own. Well, sort of.

It was January when our puppy arrived. I won’t go into the details of that day, but I assure you, anyone who knows about it knows that it was a rough start for us and our puppy. It is hard enough to live in a cinder block bathroom with another man. Add a puppy and even the best situations can become stressful. Small things like who has the puppy when or how to handle behavior problems can become issues in a hurry. Small tensions become larger and sometimes even enormous. Even with all the difficulties of raising and training a puppy, there is one thing which offsets every negative. The puppy itself.

As the months moved along, we dealt with whatever came. From the everyday training and care of our puppy to an incident requiring a vet evaluation in Rochester, we learned and grew. So did our little female black lab, who is now with a client in Florida. After my first day, I was hooked. As an inmate, the opportunity to give back to society is important. LDB [Prison Puppies] provides purpose in ways that many lacked previously. Even the idea that our families and friends can see what we are working toward as well as our joy in being a part of something so altruistic, gives meaning to the program. It provides a humanizing factor in a place where many feel dehumanized. Even for those who are doing life or have very long sentences, it provides an opportunity to experience joy, love, and a host of emotions they may not have had the chance to enjoy so freely. The intrinsic rewards of doing a good job at something bigger than yourself is perhaps the best part.

Oh sure, dogs we love leave us. We watch them go out the gates. The same gates we long to exit as well. That can be difficult… That is what I’m about to do. Go out and leave a significant part of my life behind me. I’ll miss my friends. I’m nervous about what is ahead of me. I’m thankful that I understand now the importance of the relationships I’ve built in prison. They won’t end, just change. The same goes for my involvement with Leader Dog. It won’t end, just change. I hope to volunteer my time and energy in new ways and in new places. After all, change is good, and Leader Dog has helped me make it through some major changes already. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you in Rochester.

Pictured above, inmates in the Chippewa Correctional Facility demonstrate their Future Leader Dogs’ skills.

Black lab puppy wearing blue Future Leader Dog bandana looks up toward the camera

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.

Mary stands holding a black labrador's leash in a hallway in front of double doors. She is smiling at the camera and surrounded on both sides by young boys wearing Boy Scouts shirts and hats. A Scout leader is also standing with them

Mary St. Clair is a highly involved volunteer at Leader Dogs. She is client driver, a dog driver, a puppy raiser, and so much more! She is currently raising her sixth Future Leader Dog, Westley, a Labrador and golden retriever cross. She began volunteering after driving by the Leader Dog campus and seeing an advertisement for puppy raisers. “I made the decision instantly. It was one of those ‘Why not?’ things,” says Mary. “I had dogs and loved dogs my whole life. Plus, I knew that this would be a great opportunity to help someone.”

Like many of our volunteers, Mary first connected with Leader Dog because of the dogs but has continued helping because of the people we serve. “My favorite part is meeting the clients. Seeing the joy and freedom on their faces is the best feeling in the world.”

Driving the clients to and from the airport, taking them shopping, and helping them become orientated on campus gives her a chance to get to know them. Mary enjoys meeting all the clients, not just the ones who receive the puppies she raised.  “It’s nice to meet people from other parts of the country and the world,” says Mary.

Although she loves her volunteer work, Mary recognizes that the job can be challenging. “My advice to someone considering puppy raising is to contact a puppy raiser and ask to shadow them for a day to see how things fall together. Hopefully, that will give them a better understanding of the commitments required to makes things possible,” she says. “I really love the work I do for Leader Dog. What I expected to be a good experience turned out to be a great experience.”

Pictured above is Mary St. Clair with Future Leader Dog Jaeger, one of the puppies she has raised, visiting a Boy Scout group.

On left is a young golden retriever puppy wearing a Future Leader Dog bandanna. On right is an adult golden retriever in harness

Do you love dogs? Are you passionate about making a difference in the life of someone who is blind? Consider becoming a volunteer puppy raiser. Opening your home to a puppy is a commitment, but in exchange you’ll receive moments of joy that will last a lifetime.

Sandy and Gary Frick were in their living room watching the news when the words, “You too can be a puppy raiser,” caught their attention. Sandy was immediately on-board; Gary was reluctant. It was a few months before Sandy sent in their puppy raiser application. She did it when Gary was at work.

After receiving their first puppy, Murphy, a black Labrador retriever, Gary cautioned Sandy, “You won’t be able to take him back.” Sandy remembers, “When returning Murphy, I didn’t get 10 blocks from home before I started crying. I only made it to Leader Dog because I couldn’t let Gary be right.”

24 Leader Dog Puppies Later…

The Fricks say that meeting clients who received the dogs they raised is what keeps them coming back for more. Sandy recalls, “One client told us that getting her Leader Dog was better than all the Christmas gifts she had ever gotten in her life. We’re amazed that what we thought was a small thing we could do makes such a big impact on a person’s life.”

“I’d tell anyone who is considering raising a puppy to take time to think about it,” says Sandy. “Also, that it has been one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done. When you experience how you can directly impact someone’s life, it’s a feeling that you will always remember.”

Pictured above is Gibson, a golden retriever that Gary and Sandy raised for Leader Dog.

Learn more about becoming a puppy raiser.

Light Up Leader Dog

Join us this holiday season as we Light Up Leader Dog! For a $10 donation, a luminary will be placed in your honor on Leader Dog's campus on the evening of December 11, 2021.