and was ready to transition from that career when
she discovered Southeast Guide Dogs. She started
out part time coordinating new puppy raiser
applications, and she was promoted from that position
“I love the mission of this organization and making
an impact in my community,” Shepard said, “and
making a difference in the quality of life of another
person is very rewarding.”
The dogs are highly
prepared for a
New puppy raiser applicants are pre-screened by
phone, and the application is sent out to local
volunteer coordinators. Volunteer groups are located
throughout the state of Florida.
Shepard teaches new volunteers about the
challenges and rewards of raising a guide dog.
Volunteers are invited to a meeting where they
meet and get to know the puppies, and then go
through a home visit and a background check. Finally
they’re matched with each other based on skill levels.
The puppies stay with the raisers for about a year.
“We assess them at 8 weeks old and we have a
good idea of what kind of personality they have at
that point,” Shepard said.
Puppy sitters are highly valued because there are
times when the raisers need a break. Co-raising also
works well for people who can’t bring the puppy to
work with them every day, as they are encouraged
to take the dog with them everywhere they go.
Southeast Guide Dogs Media Relations Manager
Ruth Lando said the organization is always in need of
additional puppy raising volunteers.
“We are so thankful for the wonderful people who
take our dogs into their homes and hearts when they
are about 10 weeks old,” Lando said. “They help teach
them basic obedience and house manners and take
them wherever they can to socialize them. When the
puppies are about 18 months old they return to our
campus for canine university and more formal
The dogs are highly trained, like elite athletes
prepared for a challenge. Through cutting-edge
genetics and breeding, innovative puppy
education, positive home experiences and
expert training, the dogs learn to love people and
to serve them.
Southeast Guide Dogs work with several
pedigrees of Labradors, golden retrievers and
goldadors – a mix of the two breeds. The dogs
also serve veterans as emotional support dogs
and facility therapy dogs. The people the dogs
serve are both young and old, students and
Volunteers include singles, families, working
professionals and college students who can
dedicate about 18 months of their lives to
spending time with the puppies and providing
loving homes. During the process the puppies
learn how to be good companions to those they
No experience is needed. New volunteers
meet twice a month to practice skills with other
If you’re not quite ready to commit to caring
for a dog on your own, you can also become a
co-raiser or apply to be a puppy sitter. The sitters
fill in when the raisers travel or need respite. If
you’d like more information about becoming a
puppy raiser visit guidedogs.org for frequently
asked questions or to complete an interest form.