2-year waiting list for guide dogs promotes need for trainers

2-year waiting list for guide dogs promotes need for trainers

Nationwide, there has been a growing need for guide dogs and, coincidentally, for guide dog trainers.

Barbara Schultze, the president of OccuPaws Guide Dog Association, said the organization is seeing more people who need these dogs than those willing to take the time to train them. Currently, they have a two-year waiting list for people requesting guide dogs.

“We need puppy raisers because without them, we can’t provide guide dogs,” Schultze said.

For many years, OccuPaws has provided free guide dogs to blind people in Wisconsin. The help is all volunteer-based, and hard to come by.

“We like to teach you how to use your dog and be a team with your dog in your own home. We would go to your bus. We would go to your place of work, your volunteer location, your church,” Schultze said.

She understands it’s a time-consuming program, but wants people to know it’s also a fulfilling way to give back.

Trainer Don Curtis has worked with guide dogs for over seven years, and said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I think, as a child wanting (a dog) but never have that, now I can’t be without a dog,” Curtis said.

The training starts by filling out an application on OccuPaws website. Then, Schultze visits with the future trainer to find out what their availability is and they attend a training class, which happens once a week. If it’s something the person can see themselves doing, OccuPaws starts the process with puppy-sitting, for a week or two. If after that the person still wants to be a trainer, they’ll take in a dog for several months.

“They get to go to the home. They take them to work, to grocery stores, everywhere a blind person would take their dog,” Schultze said.

OccuPaws is looking for volunteers year-round, but in the next couple months, the organization will be taking in five new guide training dogs. If you want to apply, visit its application page.