The Gift of a Great Start

Volunteer Puppy Raisers play a vital role in the development of Fidelco German Shepherds as they grow into becoming guide dogs. From eight weeks until about 14–16 months old, puppies live with families who provide a loving home, training, and socialization to prepare them for future guide dog work.

After ten years as a Volunteer Puppy Raiser, Barbara DeSouza’s dedication and enthusiasm haven’t wavered. “Puppy raising is great. As soon as I give the puppy back to Fidelco for formal guide training, I say OK, I’m ready for another puppy to raise.” Barbara is currently raising Fidelco pup, “Frankie,” who lives with her two Fidelco career-change dogs, “Ultan” and “Hope,” family rescue dog, “MaCree,” and cat, “Wynter.”

“As soon as I give the puppy back to Fidelco for formal guide training, I say: OK, I’m ready for another puppy to raise.”

Barbara has a family member who is blind. When her son, Dillon, was 12 and looking for a community service project, he said, “I want to raise a guide dog for people like Uncle Joe.” In 2011, Barbara and Dillon welcomed Fidelco puppy, “Hope,” the first of eight Fidelco puppies raised by the DeSouzas over the past ten years.

In high school Dillon played multiple sports, and Barbara would take the Fidelco puppies to games and practices to further the socialization process. She shares, “I love the whole community aspect of Fidelco. Many of the volunteers I have met in the Saturday Puppy Raiser classes have become my friends. And I love talking to people about Fidelco Guide Dogs—I always encourage others to become involved.

“Some people say to me, ‘I could never be a Puppy Raiser because I couldn’t give the puppy up.’ I tell them when the puppies are 16 months old—because these German Shepherd Dogs learn so fast and are so smart—you know they are ready to move on. They want more and are ready for the next level of work and training to become guide dogs.”

Dillon is now a 22-year-old college student. With a quieter household, combined with social-distancing due to COVID-19, Barbara has found creative ways to socialize Frankie and safely expose her to various people, sights, sounds, and environments that prepare her for future guide dog training.

As an Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Barbara drove to her office each day prior to the coronavirus pandemic. On Fridays, she would bring the Fidelco puppy she was raising with her to work, to expose it to an office environment, taking elevators, navigating sidewalks, and crossing city streets.

In March 2020, she shifted to working from home, and Frankie arrived in June. The pandemic routine now includes training to help the puppy understand when it’s time for Barbara to begin and end her workday, and when it is time for Frankie to rest, train, or play—all important manners and skills for future guide work.

Barbara takes Frankie out into the world in small and safe ways—to the grocery store, home improvement center, and outdoor shopping and recreational areas. There are lots of hikes and walks. Barbara is especially grateful to have a team of neighborhood puppy partners: three sisters from the family next door. The girls have “Frankie Fridays,” when they join Barbara and Frankie for walks around the neighborhood after school.

Barbara says that it’s gratifying to know that puppies she and Dillon raised are now working as Fidelco guide dogs for people who are blind. Barbara says, “You remember this goofy, fluffy puppy you raised—and you now see him expertly and calmly leading his partner through a crowd of rowdy people in a busy subway station, escorting her securely up the stairs and safely outside. I’ve seen another pup we raised—now a Fidelco guide dog—who accompanies her partner on camping trips as they explore and hike challenging trails together with confidence and companionship.”

Barbara has given eight Fidelco puppies the gift of a great start, and she is looking forward to raising more. Everyone at Fidelco is so grateful to all volunteers who pour their energy and time into raising and caring for puppies, forming the foundation for trusted guide dog partnerships.