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Puppies in green mean business

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When these four-legged friends are "naked" they can be playful little pups, but once they put on

their green work coats, it's back to business. They are puppies-in-training

and when they grow up, all they want to become are guide dogs for the blind.

Before they can get there, however, they must first learn their puppy

manners. That's where families like the Starkies and Shorrs, along with half

a dozen others in the Valley, enter the picture as puppy raisers.

The families' main duty is to socialize the young pup, teach them

the basic obedience skills and expose them to different modes of

transportation, said first-time raiser June Starkie.

"We really try hard to make them successful because we want them

to be good," she said.

Three-month-old Winter Shorr and 4-month-old Rizzo Starkie, both

yellow labs, came to the Valley through Guide Dogs for the Blind, which

has facilities in California and Oregon. The Starkies and Shorrs are part of

the 4-H Club "For Your Eyes Only," which specializes in matching raisers

with the soon-to-be working dogs.

"All the families that join up with the club enjoy raising dogs,

having endless puppies and like to really help others," said group leader

Windy Jones. "With our program, our job is to help the individual raise these

dogs. We don't dump these dogs on you and say, `Here's yours.'"

The surrogate parents and pups devote many hours to training,

grooming and socializing. Weekly and yearly events help the raisers swap ideas

and learn effective training techniques to use on their furry bundles of joy.

But all work and no play make Winter and Rizzo dull dogs, so

the families make sure that they also give them a lot of love and fun.

"I have a friend that's blind and when she takes the harness off

he'll run around and get his toys," said 13-year-old Rickie Shorr. "But when

his harness is on, he'll stand so proud."

Several problems that puppy raisers consistently face are

convincing some wary business owners to allow their pup into the store and the

ever-present barrage from "Pushy petters."

"When we say, `No' we're not being mean, she's just in training,"

explained veteran raiser Lori Shorr, who is raising a puppy with her son

Rickie. "But when the kids are 8 years old, they don't know what `training' is."

During this phase, the raiser has the interesting task of exposing

the pup to new environments while keeping their ever-sniffing canine

focused. Therefore, it's always best to ask a puppy raiser whether it's OK to

pet the dog while they're in training.

By the time the dogs are handed back to the training center, they

should have mastered 10 commands: sit, down, stand, let's go, come, stay,

wait, off, kennel, that's enough, good dog and do your business.

Then the dog will spend another six months in specialized training

to learn to become a guide dog for the blind; however, not all of the

canines will graduate. Sometimes the animal can't perform the duties necessary

so they can either go into other fields such as police work or be returned to

their puppy raiser.

And finally, the answer to the million dollar question on

everybody's mind — yes, raisers can say

goodbye to the puppy at the end of the term.

"Everybody goes into this with the idea that this puppy actually

belongs to Guide Dogs for the Blind and that the dog will be going back and

you get another dog immediately," Jones said. "So you're giving up your

pride and joy and get another fuzzy puppy to start again with."

"It's hard to give them up, but the rewards when the guide dogs make

it outweigh all of that," he added.

Lori Shorr, who raised Nicklaus before getting Winter, admitted that

on the day they needed to give up the pup she cried all the way to the facility

in Oregon. But her sadness soon turned to pride when she saw the

potential that her puppy might achieve at the academy.

"I met a blind person who had a Seeing Eye Dog and now I'll do it

a million times," she said. "The only way I can do it is to know this

dog will be loved to the end."

The Starkie girls agreed that they too will be happy when they see

their puppy become a full-fledged working dog.

"I don't think I'll feel sad," Bronwyn Starkie said. "I know I

did something good."

"I'd be sad but happy too," added Elizabeth Starkie. "They're going

to someplace good."

For more information about Guide Dogs for the Blind or becoming

a puppy raiser, call Coordinator Michele Cawley at (800) 689-0686 or visit

the group's Web site at www.guidedogs.com. Or, drop by

the For Your Eyes Only meetings on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. at The Little

School in Bellevue.

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