Seattle's Child

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Raising puppy for service

Zoe (left) and Aya Ma walk Bengal, a Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy in training. The family previously raised Fillmore, who returned for formal training on the same puppy truck that delivered baby Bengal. Photo by Joshua Huston

Ready for service!

Raising a puppy to guide someone in need

Flanagan is on his way to college and the Kim family couldn’t be more proud. They’ll miss him, of course, but they just want him to be successful and happy. It’s a typical family right of passage, heading off to school. Except that Flanagan is 14 months old. Oh, and he’s a dog. 

The Kims—Ian, Sarah, 13-year-old Micah, and 9-year-old Noah—are among a number of families who volunteer to raise a puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Welcoming an 8-week-old ball of fur and returning a grown dog a year or so later is a big commitment, but it means months of joy, learning, and growth for the entire family.  

After their Golden Retriever, Sadie, died, the Kims wanted a pet in their home. They met some guide dogs being raised in the neighborhood and talked as a family about raising a puppy. “GDB is a great program,” says Sarah, “and raising was an opportunity to volunteer to help others while enjoying the experience of having a dog again.” 

Hard to say goodbye, but worth it

 “At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” Micah admits, “because I would have to say goodbye.” Once the family talked about it, though, they decided that as long as they went into the experience knowing what the outcome would be, that would make it doable. They were all in.

Decision made and ball of fur duly delivered, the boys were excited by both the fun and the responsibility. “We took Flanagan on walks together, went to GDB training meetings, and practiced with him,” says Micah. “Sometimes we practiced with other dogs, too, so we learned a lot about raising and training.” 

Noah pipes in: “We took turns feeding him and learned to measure his food just right. But the best part was coming home from school and Flanagan would rush over and be so glad to see us.” 

A mayor in the house

Sometimes Flanagan accompanied the boys to their school for special events.

“So did you hear about Flanagan being elected mayor?” asks Ian. Say what?? At the boys’ school, students vote each year to elect an animal—a fish, a dog, a bird—as “mayor.” This year it was Mayor Flanagan.  

“The kids really got into it,” says Ian. “When Flanagan visited the school for the last time recently, the school gave him a send-off and explained to the students about his moving on to advanced training.”

Which mention brings the family full circle to the tough subject of saying goodbye. Asked how he is feeling as the day of departure approaches, Micah pauses a moment to consider. “Really,” he says, “I just want Flanny to be successful and be a good helper for the person who needs him.”  

Staying involved

Will they do it again? Sarah answers for the family. “We’ve learned so much and the organization has been supportive and great to be a part of. We definitely will stay involved, volunteer to puppy-sit. Then who knows? Perhaps another puppy!” 

If raising a puppy sounds interesting, but your family’s not ready to make that commitment, you can “puppy-sit” while learning about service dog training and getting to know the organization. Puppy-sitting allows family members to learn about caring for and training dogs and to “sit” a puppy-in-training when the raiser needs a break. 

The Worthington family of Anacortes—Helen and Brian and their three kids, Tommy, Kyle, and Caitlin—have busy schedules full of sports and other activities, and they don’t feel ready to have a full-time dog just now.

Puppy sitting is an option!

“Puppy-sitting works perfectly for us,” says Helen Worthington.. “The kids haven’t been raised with a dog around, so they are eager to learn how to care for and train a dog. And to play, of course—when these dogs aren’t training or working, they’re just like any other dogs.” 

Brian Worthington enjoys “seeing the kids take initiative with the puppies’ training exercises. It’s fun to watch both the kids and the dogs be successful.”

And the kids? Caitlin sums up how they feel about sitting succinctly: “The whole thing is REALLY fun!”

As a parting thought, Helen Worthington adds that she never worries about three kids and a puppy being too much. She says the nonprofit Summit Assistance Dogs makes it easy. 

“I know that if we find ourselves in a challenging situation, there’s a network of committed staff and volunteers to help out,” she says.

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