Two Labrador retrievers raised by a group of students at New Mexico State University are now working as certified guide dogs.
The dogs – Shuttle and Koi – spent about 14 months at NMSU being raised and trained by NMSU Community Puppy Raisers, a student organization led by faculty member Gaylene Fasenko from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, before graduating from the California-based Guide Dogs for the Blind in November 2019.
NMSU Community Puppy Raisers, which consists of about 40 active student-members, works in partnership with Guide Dogs for the Blind to train puppies in preparation for formal guide-dog school. Guide Dogs for the Blind is nonprofit organization that prepares guide dogs to serve individuals who are blind or have low vision throughout the United States and Canada.
Shuttle and Koi were the first puppies to be raised by NMSU Community Puppy Raisers, and both became working guide dogs. A third dog raised by the club was recalled back for training at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in San Rafael, California.
“It was like watching your own kid graduate,” said Fasenko, who attended the dogs’ graduation. “We picked them up as puppies on the same date, and they graduated on the same date.”
Fasenko, an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences, developed NMSU’s Human Animal Interaction Minor program and oversees the on-campus FIDO LAB, short for the Facility for Investigating Dog/Owner Learning and Behavior. The lab serves as headquarters for NMSU Community Puppy Raisers.
The club, founded in spring 2018, is a growing community of puppy-raisers and puppy-sitters. All NMSU students who have an interest in learning about companion animals are welcome to join. The club’s main initiative is training puppies that will later go through guide-dog school.
Both born in San Rafael, California, Shuttle and Koi arrived at NMSU in the summer of 2018 when they were about 10 weeks old.
“Koi loved everybody, and Shuttle was a big, goofy and loveable boy,” Fasenko said of the dogs.
Following guidelines from Guide Dogs for the Blind, students from the club raised and trained Shuttle and Koi in basic obedience and good public behavior over a 14-month period. Working as puppy-raisers or puppy-sitters, about 10 students in total helped to train the two dogs.
Puppy-raisers are assigned a dog care for on a 24/7 basis, which includes housing the dog in their home or dorm and taking them to class. Puppy-sitters help care for the dogs when needed.
“Our goal is to raise confident dogs that can think for themselves,” Fasenko said.
After their training at NMSU, Shuttle and Koi began guide-dog school in July 2019. Both successfully completed training by November 2019 and have since been matched with separate handlers. Shuttle lives in Sacramento, California, while Koi lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.
“The dogs are now the handlers’ constant companions, but they also save their lives every day – and that cannot be understated,” Fasenko said.
Currently, the club is raising five other puppies. Guide Dogs for the Blind covers the cost of veterinary care and some supplies, but the club is responsible for the purchase of food, kennels and toys. Monetary donations from the public help offset these costs.
Information from NMSU