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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Falcon Focus: Senior raises guide dogs with family

When she was in third grade, senior Katie Woodruff received a letter that changed her life. This letter, from the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization, came in the mail soon after the death of one of her family’s dogs and promoted raising guide dogs in one’s own house.
Woodruff, her older brother and her parents immediately latched on to the idea, eager for a chance to contribute to the community and add a new member to their family.
She said the process of training a guide dog always begins when her family receives an 8-week-old puppy. They then raise the puppy until it is about 18 months old, while attending a weekly meeting to check in on the puppy’s progress.
“It’s a pretty long process,” Woodruff said. “[We give the puppies] basic training and get them through the puppy age so that they can mature and become guide dogs.”
According to Woodruff, the organization breeds black labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and crosses of the two breeds. She also said that she has always had a passion for interacting with animals, which is why the opportunity to raise guide dogs appealed to her so much.
“I’ve always been really involved with animals,” Woodruff said. “My mom worked at a vet hospital, so I kind of grew up there.”
Knowing each dog’s personality leads to success in training, she said.
  “[You have to] know the traits of a dog and how dogs [react] to different things,” Woodruff said. “You really have to be able to predict them and read what they’re going to do and not do.”
After Woodruff and her family have finished raising a guide dog, they send it to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a nonprofit organization in San Rafael, for the dog’s final training and evaluation.  
If the dog fails this part of the process, it may go on to become another type of working dog or a regular house pet. If the dog passes, it is matched up with a blind person and sent to live with him or her, acting as a seeing eye dog.
Woodruff and her family train one guide dog at a time, and they are now raising a golden retriever named Hal.
“Every dog has been really special to me,” Woodruff said. “I can name everything about them. But I think [Hal and I] just have a special bond.”
In the nine years since Woodruff and her family started this process, they have raised 11 puppies, with two that have graduated at San Rafael.
“All of the dogs [are] so great,” Woodruff said. “They’re raised to do this, and they love working. It’s just so cool to see them progress through the training.”
Woodruff said that one of her favorite parts of this process is attending a guide dog’s graduation in San Rafael. There, she is able to go up on stage and present the dog that she has raised to a blind person.
“It’s just the coolest experience,” Woodruff said. “[When] you officially hand the leash over, it’s really emotional.”
Said Woodruff: “The fact that you’ve done something to give this person their ability to see and just open up their life is really incredible. It’s changed my life.”
 
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