Service: Guide Dog Training

Sibling yellow Lab pups are just two of many guide dogs being trained by IC students.
by Liz Getman '09

Blonde-haired beauties Yeltsin and Yvonne may be the most popular siblings on campus. “We walk around with these two, and you know when we’re coming up to a group of girls because they all start squealing and yelling,” says Laura Allocco ’09 of the brother-sister duo.

And the two don’t seem to mind the attention. “[They’ll] run right up to you and act excited to see you,” says Janis Rosen ’09. “They love when someone says how cute they are.”

Allocco and Rosen are more than just adoring fans of the campus celebrities. The IC students are training yellow Labradors Yeltsin and Yvonne as part of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program. The sibling pups, who have special permission to live on campus (pets are usually banned), will each be paired with a blind person when their training is complete. 

After a pre-placement training program, the two IC women were matched with their new charges when the puppies were just eight weeks old. “We train them in basic manners, and work on the dog-owner relationship,” says Allocco, who is training Yvonne. “It’s a lot of sociability.”

IC students have been training guide dogs for more than 10 years, points out Russ Hollier, regional coordinator for Guiding Eyes. In addition to Rosen and Allocco, eight other students are currently volunteering as puppy raisers, and attend classes with their dogs once every two weeks.

Allocco and Rosen will train their canine partners for about 14 to 16 months, or until the dogs complete the first stage of the program. The two are being trained to obey simple commands, such as sit and stay, to ignore outside distractions, and to remain loyal to their owners. But Rosen says the dogs aren’t the only ones learning and maturing. “Training Yeltsin has taught me a lot about myself,” she says. “I’ve become much more patient.”  

Yeltsin and Yvonne — like all dogs in the program — were specially bred at a canine development center. Each pup in a litter is given a name beginning with the same letter of the alphabet, Rosen says, to keep track of when the dogs were born. “We start with the letter A at the beginning of every year, and continue through the alphabet (with the exception of X,U, and Z),” she explains.

President Peggy R. Williams, who is proud to call herself a “dog nut,” says the presence of these guiding-eye dogs and their trainers energizes the campus community. “It brings something to all of us, and perks you up a bit,” she says. “It also reminds me of what this is all about. Helping these dogs develop is an incredible gift that [the students] are giving to someone else.”