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OU students to foster puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 5, 2020

 Anne Fuelle helped launch the Future Leader Dogs Club to allow OU students to raise puppies that will become guide dogs through Leader Dogs’ training program.

Anne Fuelle helped launch the Future Leader Dogs Club to allow OU students to raise puppies that will become guide dogs through Leader Dogs’ training program.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Oakland University will soon welcome some new four-legged friends to campus.

Leader Dogs for the Blind and Oakland University recently launched the Future Leader Dogs Club to allow OU students to raise puppies that will become guide dogs through Leader Dogs’ training program.

Oakland University Honors College Dean Graeme Harper came up with the idea after reading the book “Have Dog, Will Travel,” by Steve Kuusisto, and he turned the project over to one of his student fellows, Anne Fuelle.

“One of the biggest things that I learned when I actually came and toured the campus was how much of a community it is here — focused on differently abled individuals,” said Fuelle, who is majoring in medical laboratory sciences at OU. “I really want to bring puppies to campus and introduce guide dogs, but also raise awareness about the blind community.”

To set up the program with success, both parties agreed that they should start small. So they named two Oakland University student members of the Future Leader Dogs Club as the group’s first puppy raisers.

Fuelle received the club’s first puppy — an 8-week-old yellow Labrador retriever she named Ernest, after Ernest Hemingway — on Jan. 26.

“I will be taking my dog with me everywhere and in every class, with the exception of exams,” she said. “I know the campus is really excited about it.”

Puppy raisers are tasked with spending between 10 and 14 months caring for a puppy, teaching basic obedience and house manners, socializing them in the community, and attending monthly on-campus meetings.

Additional students were selected to provide support to the puppy raisers as campus buddies.

“Campus buddies are actually younger students who would like to be raisers in the future, but either live on campus and can’t take a dog at the moment or they are a freshman and don’t qualify yet. They will actually watch our dogs for classes that we can’t take them to,” Fuelle explained.

The club has access to a puppy counselor, Lia Jones, who is available to answer questions about training techniques and puppy health issues and to guide them throughout the process, along with the puppy training team at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Vijay Joshi, who coordinates the puppy raising program for Leader Dogs, said the program is a win-win for the university and the nonprofit.

“The connectivity and therapeutic value that puppies or dogs bring (to a university) is amazing,” she said. “And for Leader Dogs, we get a wonderful experience of having dogs from different environments, because our clients come from different environments.”

When the puppies are around 10 months old, they return to Leader Dogs for an in-for-training assessment. Those who are chosen to move forward will undergo four months of formal harness training with a professional guide dog mobility instructor. The dogs who graduate from training are then assigned to clients with visual impairments, free of charge.

Over 300 puppy raisers volunteer with Leader Dogs each year, but due to medical, temperament or work-related issues, not all dogs make it as Leader Dogs.

Some dogs who do not become guide dogs are “career changed” and are adopted by other agencies to work as service, custom or rescue dogs. If the dog isn’t selected to begin a different career, puppy raisers will be given the opportunity to adopt the dog as a pet.

“We’re hoping that the program thrives and continues,” Joshi said. “We are in talks with other university and campus programs, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping we can expand on this.”

To join the Future Leader Dogs Club at Oakland University, visit GrizzOrgs — the student organization management system — at oaklandu.campuslabs.com. For more information about the club, email annfuelle@oakland.edu or call (734) 780-5791.

Leader Dogs for the Blind is located at 1039 S. Rochester Road in Rochester Hills. For more information, to donate or to become a volunteer puppy raiser, call (248) 651-9011 or email leaderdog@leaderdog.org.

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