DARIEN, Conn. – All puppies need training, but Darien sixth-grader Cailey Martin is preparing her puppy Sadie for a higher purpose. In about a year, the black Labrador will become a service dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Cailey has been training the rambunctious 6-month-old puppy for two months, teaching it basic commands such as sit and stay. Each week, she and her family attend a class in Westport with other puppies, where they learn new commands and skills to teach their dogs. For Cailey, it has been the culmination of a lifelong desire.
“When I was little, I loved American Girl dolls, especially Nicki. She trained a service dog and I always wanted one,” Cailey said. “When our 15-year-old lab passed away, we wanted another dog, but we didn’t want the commitment.”
After she received Sadie, she went around to local stores asking for help with the project. Cailey found support from Pawprint Market, which agreed to donate all the food, leashes, toys and other items needed to raise the puppy. Sadie can also go to the store and socialize with other dogs.
“This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Pawprint co-owner Jennifer Scott. The project meshes well with the store’s philosophy of doing business with family-owned companies, she said. “All these puppies and families that come in here become a part of my extended family. I wanted to help as much as I could to make sure that it grows up nicely, has a good home, good food and plenty of toys.”
Raising the dog has been a family affair, said Cailey’s father, Peter. The whole family attends the classes and works with Sadie on the new skills.
“It’s a great, short-time commitment to an outstanding organization,” he said. The family is not training Sadie specific skills to be a guide dog, he said, but teaching her how to listen, make eye contact, stay off the furniture and be a respectful pet. When Sadie is about 18 months old, she will be trained to be a seeing eye dog, a police dog or a pet for people with autism.
“We’re going to miss her, of course,” Cailey said. Her dog, Chester, who had been with her for her entire life, died at age 15. “You always have to say goodbye to dogs, but I didn’t want to say goodbye like that again.”
Cailey can keep in touch with Sadie and said she would consider training another guide dog.
If you’re interested in raising a service dog, Guiding Eyes for the Blind will hold an open house for potential puppy-raisers Jan. 31 at Christ & Holy Trinity Church in Westport.