This puppy is welcome on campus

By Kelsi Gately
Staff Writer

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Marty at nine months.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Pisarski.

Guide dogs have a big responsibility, helping their owners get from place to place and accomplish daily tasks. But before guide dogs go through formal training, they live with puppy raisers who help socialize them and teach them basic obedience.

Currently two UWF roommates living in Pace Hall are volunteering with Southeastern Guide Dogs to raise a guide dog, Marty.

“As puppy raisers, our official role consists of basic training, exposure to different environments and people, and encouragement of critical thinking and confidence from the dogs,” said Abbie Kellett, sophomore communications major. “Our unofficial role is that of public educator and advocate for not only Southeastern [Guide Dogs], but all service animals in training.”

Marty is a yellow lab who came from Palmetto, Florida, and has been with the roommates since the Fall 2015 semester. Puppies stay with their trainers for about one year before going on to formal training.

Southeastern Guide Dogs is a non-profit organization that raises and trains guide dogs in Florida and neighboring states. According to the website, their mission is: “To create and nurture a partnership between a visually impaired individual and a guide dog, facilitating life’s journey with mobility, independence and dignity.” Anyone over the age 18 can apply to be a puppy raiser.

Puppy raisers are legally required to be treated the same as someone who has a service animal. According to Florida Statue 418.08: “Any trainer of a service animal, while engaged in the training of such an animal, has the same rights and privileges with respect to access to public facilities.”

This means that if you see Marty around campus, she is a working dog and needs to be focused at all times. A notice has been posted at the residence hall asking people not to whistle, call to her or otherwise distract Marty from her work.southern

Currently there are no rules in the UWF Housing Handbook concerning guide dogs living in residence halls. It is done on a case-by-case basis.

“Raising Marty has taught me more about patience than any other experience has,” said Melissa Pisarski, sophomore journalism major with a minor in forensic studies and psychology. “She empowers everyone she works with. I’m empowered because I’ve learned about myself. Her partner will be empowered with freedom and independence.”

Guide dog organizations are always looking for volunteers to help love and raise puppies. Besides Southeastern, another such organization is Guide Dogs for the Blind. Just know that when it comes time for your puppy to receive formal training, between 14-20 months, it may be difficult to let go.

To read more about Marty, click to visit Kellett’s blog.