One of the ways that Dan and Kati Corrigan of Norwalk, CT knew that they were a perfect match for each other was their shared love of animals. As a young married couple living with two dogs and two cats of their own, these devoted vegetarians opened their home to foster cats and dogs waiting for their forever homes. They were so committed to helping the animals and so good at it, that they quickly became a go-to foster family for several shelters, fostering over 130 dogs over the years. They regularly had more than a dozen dogs in their home at once, and they even fostered twenty-six dogs at one time as they cared for two litters of puppies and fourteen dogs for almost two weeks.
These days, Kati and Dan have added two children, three new dogs, and a rabbit (they also still have the two cats) to their family and have turned their significant love of animals, experience caring for them, and skill at training to working with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that trains and places guide dogs with people who have vision loss at no cost. The Corrigans are thrilled to be able to combine their love of animals with making a concrete contribution to the world and that they are able to instill in their children not only a fondness for animals but a sense of service. It is the stories of the people with vision loss going from a limited life full of dependence to a broader one of independence with the help of a guide dog that makes Dan and Kati want to do this work. They were particularly struck by the story of a man who was helped by Guiding Eyes for the Blind who shares how he went from feeling frustrated to feeling confident. Without the dog, there was no deviating from his limited routine. Once he was paired with a guide dog, however, he was able to go further and feel free. Already leaning towards signing up to be raisers, hearing this man’s inspiring story had Dan and Kati hooked.
Kati and Dan have been volunteering for the organization for three years now, and are working with their third dog, a yellow Labrador named Kringle. The first two dogs, Aladdin and Rebel, also Labradors, successfully passed the home training program. Aladdin was placed with a young woman and Rebel is still living with the Corrigans, eagerly awaiting the end of the Coronavirus pandemic so that he can also be placed. Once everything opens up again, Rebel, a black Lab, will return to the Guiding Eyes for the Blind kennels for an additional six months of specific guide dog training before being placed. Meanwhile, Kati and Dan are working on basic training commands with Kringle, a yellow Lab, who came to them on December 26 at eight weeks old. He is a big boy already, weighing about 40 pounds at six months old.
People who want to volunteer to be raisers to home and train puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind begin by interviewing with staff and then taking classes for about three weeks. If the fit is good, potential raisers will begin by temporarily dog sitting for current raisers who need to be away from their dogs for a short period of time. If these visits go well, the potential raisers will be accepted and receive a puppy to home and train. Puppies stay with their raisers and learn basic obedience and socialization for fourteen to eighteen months. During this time, the raisers and the puppy will participate in weekly training classes. At the end of their time together, the dogs will return to the Guiding Eyes for the Blind kennels to be tested to determine whether or not they are a good fit to be a guide dog. It is an incredibly stressful, 24/7 job, so even the most loving and well-trained animals may not have the right temperament to be selected. In those cases, other agencies that use working dogs, such as law enforcement or TSA, come and evaluate the dogs. Often times, dogs that cannot be matched as guide dogs make wonderful police or TSA dogs. If not, the dogs are placed for adoption. These are such amazing dogs, however, that they rarely do not get placed, so the waiting list to adopt one of these animals is well over a year long.
Being a raiser for a guide dog is a time consuming and sometimes challenging experience. Dan and Kati and their full house happily make the sacrifices needed because the reward of placing the dog with a person in need is so great. Dan and Kati say that one of the best parts of the whole experience is meeting the blind person who will be living with the guide dog. They have kept in touch with the person Aladdin guides and are so happy to hear updates of how Aladdin is doing and how much he is helping her.
With International Guide Dog Day on April 29, now would be a great time to check out the Guiding Eyes for the Blind website and see what you can do to contribute to this awesome cause. There are many ways to get involved, from spreading awareness on social media to donating to the organization (the How to Help section on the website is chock full of good suggestions). And, maybe, like Kati and Dan Corrigan, you will be moved to become a raiser and open up your home and heart to a puppy who is going to do so much good.