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Debra Williamson kneeling next to Patsy, a yellow Labrador-Retriever wearing a Future Guide Dog vest, exchanging a glance with the other in front of the Bow River in Calgary

Raising Patsy

Debra Williamson starts every morning by asking Patsy, 'What shall we do today?' Of course, the yellow Labrador-Retriever doesn't answer, but Debra knows Patsy is always ready for the day's adventures.

Debra was looking for a purpose in her life when she heard CNIB Guide Dogs was looking for volunteer puppy raisers in Calgary.

After doing more research, Debra knew the puppy raising process would be a 24/7 job – from teaching the puppy its daily routine to arranging outings, opportunities for socializing and attending training sessions. Would she be able to say goodbye when the time came for the future guide dog to begin advanced training?

“My answer was a definite ‘yes!’,” says Debra. “It will be difficult, but Patsy will go on to give a person with sight loss a more safe and independent life – her purpose is greater than mine.”

Debra describes Patsy as a sweet, curious and fearless dog with lots of energy. Extremely social, happy and outgoing, Debra has nicknamed her ‘Party Patsy’. But when she's wearing her bright yellow Future Guide Dog vest, she is “Professional Patsy” – she knows it’s time to work.

Patsy has mastered most cues but she is still working on ‘give’ – when the dog releases an object from its mouth into someone's hand.

Patsy loves group training sessions and playdates with her littermates Garry, Irwin, and Matilda. She has an extra special bond with Irwin. They love to hike, run and play, or Patsy’s favourite activity – swimming.

“Patsy has been my constant companion over the last year and has become very special to me,” says Debra. “She has given me such purpose and provides me with so much joy and happiness, especially during the pandemic. My friends have mentioned how much healthier and happier I’ve seemed since I've started raising Patsy.”

Raising and training a future guide dog is challenging but it’s very rewarding.

“One day, Patsy and I were shopping at our local grocery store when a man working there stopped us and said, ‘Thank you for doing this really important job’,” says Debra. “He went on to tell me his son –who has sight loss – was terrified of dogs until he was partnered with a CNIB Buddy Dog. (A buddy dog is partnered with a child who is living with sight loss. Whether it’s feeding, grooming or walking this well-trained family pet, this will give the child an opportunity to care for a dog and make it easier to transition into a guide dog partnership in the future.) I already knew Patsy would have an important job to do and this father’s heartfelt message only reassured me.”

Debra’s goal is to raise Patsy to be the best she can be, so she can help someone with sight loss be more independent.