Sarah Picker, 17, of Boise, Idaho, a senior at Boise Senior High School, has raised and trained four puppies over the past seven years to be service dogs for the Boise chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Sarah became involved after her older sister read a book about a “puppy raiser” and decided to give it a try. “When I first joined I thought it would be fun because it involved dogs, but it has ended up being so much more to me,” said Sarah. “Through this organization I have discovered what I want to do with my life.”
Initially, Sarah had to attend weekly meetings and outings to begin learning about service dogs. Then, she had to study paperwork and a training manual, and watch a few dogs for a couple of weekends. Finally, she received her own puppy to train. Sarah gets her dogs when they are eight weeks old, and spends the next 14 months teaching them things like how to remain calm and relaxed in all situations, how to go to the bathroom on command, how to ignore food unless it’s specifically offered, and how to exhibit proper house manners. The hardest part, of course, is saying goodbye to her dogs when they’re ready to move on to learn specialized skills. “It’s hard to let go of these dogs that you have put lots of sweat and tears into and have had constantly by your side for almost two years, but once you realize that they are going to give someone independence, it makes it a little easier,” said Sarah, who eventually wants to work as a mobility instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind.