Dressed in a pink collar and dark-green vest, floppy-eared Agnes is the kind of puppy that makes just about everyone she passes on the UD campus want to stop and pet her. But the yellow Labrador retriever is expected to keep moving in spite of these distractions. If all goes well, Agnes will have an important job to do by the time she’s about 2 years old and trained to become a Seeing Eye dog.
For now, Alison Sobeck, a senior health studies major, has the equally important job of teaching Agnes basic commands and providing her with opportunities for exposure and socialization.
Sobeck is raising one of eight puppies currently in residence at the University through PRoUD, Puppy Raisers of UD. The club has about 40 active members, with three categories of involvement—puppy raisers, secondary puppy raisers and puppy sitters.
“We want people to understand that puppy raising and sitting are major responsibilities,” Sobeck says. “PRoUD is about much more than playing with a cute puppy for awhile and then walking away. It’s a 24/7 job, and we’re fully responsible for feeding these animals, housebreaking them and teaching them basic obedience so they’re ready to be trained as guide dogs when they’re 14 to 16 months old.”
A key part of the early training for the puppies involves exposing them to a variety of social situations, similar to what they will encounter as working dogs. So, like the other puppy raisers in PRoUD, Sobeck takes Agnes everywhere, from the classroom to the coffee shop.
The UD puppy-raising club is one of only two on college campuses — the other is at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Located in Morristown, N.J., The Seeing Eye Inc. is the oldest existing guide dog school in the world. Its mission is to enhance the independence, dignity and self-confidence of blind people through the use of Seeing Eye dogs.