Raven listens to Caroline Wetterauw's every command and wags her tail in delight as they walk around Wilton's Trackside Teen Center. But the 7-month-old black Lab, who seems attached to Caroline, is not her pet.
The two make the trip from Darien to Wilton every other week for training: Caroline is raising Raven to be a service dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
"You see the difference you can make for a person," Caroline said of raising dogs for the blind. Caroline has 18 months to train Raven. The sessions take place twice a month at Trackside with Puppy Pre-Placement Classes run by Cora Martin, the volunteer regional coordinator. Martin said the the classes set the foundation the animals need when they are handed off to a trainer.
"It's like grade school before going off to college," Martin said. When the classes are done, the dog goes to Guiding Eyes trainers, and Caroline and Raven have to say goodbye. It may seem unthinkable for a pet owner, but Caroline takes it in stride. This is the second dog she has raised for Guiding Eyes.
"You know it's not yours from the start, and you have to remember that," Caroline said.
The trainers are not the only ones who have to know the relationship is not forever. The dogs need to know it as well, Martin said. To keep the dogs from becoming attached, Martin switches dogs throughout the classes to see whether they listen to commands from different people.
Guiding Eyes is an internationally accredited nonprofit that has been training dogs for blind and visually impaired people for more than 50 years.
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