Guide Dogs for the Blind finds new home in Waco

Guide Dogs for the Blind will offer Baylor students the chance to train dogs in the basics of a life of service. An interest meeting for the club will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Waco Public Library at 1717 Austin Ave. Photo Courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind

By Pablo Gonzales | Assistant News Editor

Before guide dogs can lead the blind, they must learn how to do so. Guide dogs-in-training are coming to Waco and the Baylor campus to learn the basics of a service life.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is a national nonprofit organization that pairs guide dogs with volunteers who train them to be service dogs. The organization was founded in 1942 and has since created a volunteer network of over 2,000 “puppy raisers” who raise and train guide dogs. The organization is based in San Rafael, Calif., and has chapters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Texas.

Amanda Schroeder, logistics strategist at Baylor Institutional Events, is a proud volunteer for Guide Dogs for the Blind. As a senior in high school, she raised and trained a golden retriever.

“As a senior in high school, I raised a guide dog for my National Honor Society senior project,” Schroeder said. “I raised her from when she was eight weeks old to about when she was one-and-a-half years-old. When you do this work, it is a long-term thing. You get to see the dog grow up and watch them graduate from training and meet the person they will work with.”

Guide Dogs came to Texas in 2012. In fact, Texas has the most guide dog raisers in the United States, according to Schroeder. The biggest three clubs are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and in Houston. Schroeder has become involved with the Waco club, where most of the puppy-raisers are high school students. Schroeder hopes to get more Baylor students involved with raising guide dogs.

“Baylor students bring a different variety of raiser,” Schroeder said. “They are offering these dogs a totally different lifestyle that is more similar to what they will be doing ultimately. It is great for the dogs to get the experience of being on campus and getting used to things like walking and being in a classroom.”

Over the summer, Schroder worked with the Office of Access and Accommodation (OALA), and the Office of General Counsel to get approval for the dogs to be in campus buildings and classrooms.

“We reached out to OALA early in the summer to let them know that they were interested in bringing guide dogs to campus,” Schroeder said. “They learned about our organization and they have approached the office of general counsel on our behalf. They have been super helpful and have been a great partner for us on campus.”

Baylor students walk their dogs on campus every day. Many students have adopted dogs during their time at Baylor for the companionship and stress relief. However, some students adopt dogs and then give them away after they graduate because they can’t keep them at the next place they live, an issue that Guide Dogs for the Blind would help alleviate. These dogs are bred specifically to be guide dogs. In fact, Guide Dogs for the Blind provides the puppy raisers with training on how to train and raise the dogs.

“I think having Guide Dogs for the Blind as an option to raise a dog is perfect for Baylor students,” Plano senior Kiran Jiwani said. “I know a lot of people that want a dog during college so they get one, but can’t take the dog with them after graduation so they abandon them. This is perfect for the people who want the companionship, but not the commitment.”

Guide Dogs for the Blind offers an exchange program where puppy raisers can leave their dog with another family if they need to go out of town or just need a break. The Waco club of Guide Dogs for the Blind is having its first interest meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Waco Public Library at 1717 Austin Ave.