Puppy Raiser – Halifax, NS
When Yuko Imai first saw a posting to become a puppy raiser more than two years ago, she was intrigued. She had only just moved to Halifax and was looking for a way to engage with her new community.
“I love dogs,” says Yuko, “and I’ve grown up with dogs. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to sign up.”
When she heard that she was accepted as a puppy raiser, she was excited – but not as excited as when she got the call that her new puppy was coming home. Rhonda, her first puppy in training, came to Yuko’s home in June of 2018. Since then, Rhonda has completed her guide dog training - she is now working in Toronto with her handler. Yuko couldn’t be prouder.
“Watching the puppies leave for their formal training and all the while, hoping that they’re going to succeed – it’s so nerve wracking,” she says. “But it’s so special when they do – and in the back of your head you know that they’re going to be a part of this amazing partnership.”
When Yuko first signed up for the puppy raising program, she had no idea just how much her life would change. She knew as much as most people do about guide dogs – but she didn’t have a real understanding of everything guide dogs go through before their matched with a handler.
“The biggest change since I started puppy raising, is that I find myself thinking about things in a way that I had never thought of before,” says Yuko. “Before this experience, I’d never find myself going to a grocery store thinking, what would this experience be like if I couldn’t see? But now I do. I think about how it could be better, or I think about how it might be frustrating. It makes going out with the puppy even more valuable. I notice these things and think – this is why this is important.”
Her second puppy, Potter, was an entirely different experience. Several months into training, she was chatting with a teacher who asked if she would be willing to speak to his class about guide dogs and puppy raising. Since then, Yuko has visited several classrooms.
“It was a great learning experience for the students, but also for Potter,” says Yuko.
Yuko is expecting her third puppy in the spring of 2020.
“It forces you to really think,” she says. “You’re not just raising a dog. You’re raising it to become a guide dog. It’s been a very rewarding experience for me, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
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