When Courtney Page ’22 was looking for on-campus housing for next year, one theme house in particular caught her eye. The Colleges’ chapter of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind is located in the red Farmhouse on St. Clair Street. That’s where Page and five fellow students will live this fall.
“My grandfather can no longer see out of one eye and has no peripheral vision in the other,” says Page, the recipient of the Blanche V. Bacon Scholarship. “He needs help doing simple, everyday tasks. My favorite way to help him is by caring for his two dogs.” Page is a dog and cat sitter in her free time, so joining Guiding Eyes on campus seemed a natural step.
The HWS chapter was established in 2018 by Katherine Valicenti ’19 to promote working guide dogs at the Colleges while creating social bonds and building teamwork skills. Valicenti was interested in cultivating a community aspect of puppy training because, as she puts it, “it takes a pack to raise a pup.”
The Farmhouse is only quiet “when everyone’s sleeping,” says April Moffett ’21. She raised black Labrador retriever Odyssey there last year, while CJ Sturges ’20 raised Nils. Nils’ sister Nadine lived off-campus with Elizabeth Anderson ’19 but paid frequent visits to the Farmhouse.
Raising the potential guide dog pups is a big commitment. Members of the HWS chapter raise their dogs for 12 to 16 months, teaching them house manners and socialization skills. The dogs also attend puppy training class once a week with dogs from other local chapters. Each dog is monitored to determine when they will take their In-For-Training (IFT) test, an indicator of training aptitude. Those that pass the IFT go on to formal training with a guide dog instructor for up to six months; dogs that pass that training are then placed with a blind or visually impaired partner. It was Valicenti’s “proudest dog-mom moment ever” when Nalani, the dog she and Anderson raised together, passed her IFT in the summer of 2018.
During a spring visit to the Farmhouse, the puppies romped through the living room until their raisers corralled them into their Guiding Eyes gear: a harness for Odyssey, bandanas for Nils and Nadine. Anderson notes that “exposing a potential guide dog to a college campus is very beneficial to them; it gives them lots of practice with socialization, settling through class and walking with distractions.”
Page has already worked with some of the dogs in her spare time and even attended the puppy training classes. She’s hoping to get a dog of her own to train by the end of the fall semester. “I look forward to knowing that I helped to make the life of a visually impaired person like my grandfather a little easier and safer,” she says.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind was founded in 1954 in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. The HWS chapter is part of the Wayne County Puppy Raising Region, which encompasses Wayne, Ontario and Seneca Counties.