It is a request which, at the time, may have seemed simple and worth investigating – hosting a guide dog. This was the idea of David and Brenda Kindred’s daughter Hope, five years ago when she was in seventh grade.
Five years later, the family has gone above and beyond simply training and serving as “puppy raisers” of guide dogs for San Rafael-based Guide Dogs for the Blind, they have made it their family “thing.”
“Families have hobbies that bring them closer together,” David shared. “This, definitely for us, is something that has taken that to a new level. It’s definitely our thing.”
David and wife Brenda are the current leaders for the Stanislaus County chapter of P.A.W.S (Puppies Assisting with Sight). The Kindreds were first approached with the volunteer opportunity to lead two years ago by the Community Field Representative of Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is a 501c3 non-profit, providing willing families the opportunity to train and raise the dogs, with the intent of becoming a service dog to those that are vision impaired. The animals are given at no cost to the recipient. That’s a value of $50,000 once raised and trained, according to the Kindreds.
“Six out of ten don’t make it to become guides,” David said, noting that a number of setbacks can keep the animal from seeing that through. To date, the family has raised five dogs, only one has made it to guide status.
“Sometimes when they’re career changed they can go on to do other careers,” Hope shared. She pointed to Dogs for Diabetics, companionship dogs and K-9 buddies as some of the options.
The rigor of the process for the puppy begins with the host family and continues well beyond their one-year home stay. The family shared the training is an eight-phase program, which starts with families like theirs.
Part of their role as leaders is sharing with those interested exactly what being a “puppy raiser” entails. It is a job which they describe as full-time and 24/7, which may not suit everyone.
“It’s like having a baby,” David said of the raising of the dogs, which they bring home at eight weeks old. “The dogs can never be in a crate for more than four hours unless they are sleeping.”
Just like with a baby, managing one’s day as a puppy raiser, requires planning and preparation. Socializing the animal is just as pertinent to their training as the basic commands.
“I’ve always enjoyed babies,” Brenda noted of the preparation. “So for me, it’s not a big deal. It’s second nature. It’s part of my life.”
“Brenda trains the puppy at home until they’re able to leave home between five to six months,” David said of his wife. Their daughter Hope then begins socializing the animal by taking them to school, as well as on family outings.
“This is really a family commitment,” Brenda added. “This is our family doing it together.
“I love it,” she continued of her volunteer work not just as raiser, but as a P.A.W.S. leader. “It’s like my own little business.”
And many people seek out her guidance.
“Her phone rings often,” David said of his wife, who partners with the club members to aid with their training. “It’s 24/7. We have told everybody in our group, if you need something please call us.”
Currently through the group Brenda is mentoring six families with puppies, plus half a dozen families who do not have dogs, but serve as puppy sitters, volunteers or just attend meetings.
“We rotate the puppies throughout the club,” Brenda said, “to socialize them. If there are separation issues, we send them to a sitter to help with that.”
As a leader, David made note of the importance of the varying roles within the group as equally important. Often times, he said, interested parties will attend a meeting, unaware of the size of the commitment.
“We’re all always doing it or planning around it or thinking about it,” David said of the family’s commitment to the guide dog program.
“I love it,” Hope said of being a ‘puppy raiser.’ “Showing (livestock) was really my thing and I liked it, but this has really brought us together. I just feel closer and I really like that family bond.”
As a student ‘puppy raiser,’ Hope’s father recognizes the commitment of Oakdale Joint Unified School District for allowing the dogs to accompany her on campus.
“It’s been phenomenal and we don’t see that in all districts,” David offered from a P.A.W.S. leader’s perspective. “The support of Marc Malone and the district is important.”
The family has also been well-received by the public.
“The lion’s share of the training and the exposure comes from her,” David said of daughter Hope. “The success of each of our dogs, is due to the support of so many. Every person that interacts with the dogs during training has a hand in the success of that dog. We’re very grateful for the community support.”