Teens Who Raise Seeing Eye Puppies Support First Responders

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Addisyn and Jackson Garthwaite with Charity and Cupid

You probably know that the Seeing Eye, which provides dogs to guide the blind, is located not far from Verona in Morristown. What you may not know is that members of four Verona families, mostly teenagers, now help the Seeing Eye with that work, raising and caring for the puppies that will be trained to be guide dogs. In addition to their dog duties, these teens participate in projects to help the blind, like a Christmas toy drive for St. Joseph’s School for the Blind. And they have just given their dogs a starring role in a video to thank first responders and other essential workers who are involved in the fight against COVID-19.

Jack and Luke Lambert, who are both juniors at Verona High School, have been puppy raisers for the Eyes of Hope of Essex County, the Seeing Eye’s local puppy raisers club, since 2015 and are currently raising their fourth Seeing Eye puppy, Lincoln. During the 16 months that a puppy is in their home, puppy raisers must meet twice a month with the club to practice basic commands. They also take club trips to places like Newark Airport, Liberty Science Center and New York City to help the puppies gain experience in different environments.

Lincoln Lambert

Eyes of Hope currently has 56 puppy raisers in Essex County, but not all have a puppy right now and some choose to be puppy sitters, not puppy raisers, because of other commitments. Nia Chesney, also now a junior at VHS, is a puppy sitter. She had to be accepted into the program through the same process as a puppy raiser, and must know all the proper commands and rules.  Chesney first became interested in the Seeing Eye after visiting her mom’s school, Cedar Hill Elementary in Montville, and meeting two employees who are puppy raisers. 

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“Our family chose to become puppy sitters rather than full time puppy raisers,” says Chesney, “because we currently have two dogs at home. Puppy sitting has been extremely rewarding and enjoyable for our whole family.” 

Puppies can be raised in homes that already have family dogs. The Lamberts have two family dogs (and two younger siblings) and they say they all enjoy training the puppy, and helping it become the best dog it can be. The Lamberts got interested in puppy raising after volunteering at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, where they met several visually impaired teenagers. Soon after, the family participated in a charity walk with a patient of their mom’s who was blind. After the walk was over they asked themselves what they could do “to be part of the bigger picture?”  

The family aspect of puppy raising means that even middle-schoolers can participate Jackson and Addisyn Garthwaite are now 8th and 6th graders at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School. They received their first puppy, a black lab named Charity, in November 2018 and she was scheduled to be handed back to the Seeing Eye this March for training. But the pandemic disrupted her departure and now the Garthwaites are also raising Cupid, a golden retriever.

“Jack and Addy really enjoy puppy raising,” says their mom, Janice Garthwaite. The family found their way to the Seeing Eye after some medical issues that left them convinced that they wanted to give back to people with disabilities. “We decided to give puppy raising a try and the whole family loves it, including our own dog Shea. Jack and Addy take turns going to meetings and training the puppies. Their younger brother Cameron helps feed the dogs and play with them. He can’t wait to join them in training next year. Our dog Shea, even joins in the fun and helps teach the puppies what is acceptable  behavior. We always knew that we would get a lot out of this experience but we weren’t aware of the magnitude of how rewarding and life changing this experience has been.” 

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You don’t need to be a teen or a ‘tween to get involved with puppy raising. Michele Loihle had always wanted to be one, but, as a single mother was unable to do so. “When my daughter moved home after college, she agreed to help me raise one puppy so we applied for our first pup.” It took the Loihles six months to be offered their first German Shepherd to raise.

“There’s nothing like watching the Seeing Eye van pull up with a new seven-week-old puppy, the sleepless first three weeks, house training, puppy breathe, wiggles and thrills as they grow and learn their commands, and finally witness their town walk,” she says. “Five years and 11 pups later, I’d say I’m hooked.” 

The Seeing Eye encourages families who want to be involved in puppy raising or puppy sitting to start by getting involved in Eyes of Hope. For more information, e-mail the Puppy Placement department at [email protected]

For Nia Chesney, being a puppy sitter combines the two things that she values most: Spending time with dogs and helping people with disabilities.
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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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