Ohio State is welcoming a group of four-legged friends to campus this fall as Guiding Eyes for the Blind opens a chapter in Columbus.
Based in New York, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a program that breeds, raises and trains puppies to be guide dogs for those who are blind or visually impaired. It complements another service dog club which recruits students as trainers, 4 Paws for Ability.
Macy Nauman, president of Columbus’ Guiding Eyes chapter and a fourth-year in animal sciences, leads OSU’s chapter after 10 years of experience training service dogs. She has raised five guide puppies and will soon start raising her sixth.
“While raising a puppy, you can see how different they become and how they can take a blind person’s life from being dependent to being independent,” Nauman said. “Guide dogs change a blind person’s life, and it’s rewarding to be a part of that.”
Chris Gelpi, a political science professor, helped co-found the Columbus chapter with his wife. They currently have two dogs in training at home after having raised nine service dogs in the past.
“My wife and I started raising eight years ago,” Gelpi said. “We got addicted.”
As a part of the animal’s training, he regularly brings a dog with him to classes and faculty meetings.
“It’s fun because the dogs are a bridge to connect to lots of other people,” Gelpi said. “More students come up and talk to me and ask me questions after class and people stop by my office hours more to see the dog. Even when I’m walking down the street, more people smile at me.”
OSU students can get involved in Guiding Eyes for the Blind by completing placement classes to become certified trainers. After certification, students can opt to be a puppy sitter or raise their own puppy.
Nauman said raising a guide dog is typically a 12-to-18-month commitment, depending on the personality of the dog.
A dog raiser is responsible for bringing the puppies to training classes and continually enforcing their training, especially by exposing the puppies to different environments that OSU’s campus offers — classrooms, quiet libraries and crowded spaces like The Oval.
The chapter currently has three dogs in training and Nauman hopes to have 10 dogs in training by the end of the semester once more raisers are available.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind typically breeds and trains Labradors, but about 10 percent of the dogs are German shepherds.
No matter the dog, Nauman said that the hardest part of raising a puppy is giving him or her back.
“You definitely form a bond with your puppy, but you know that they weren’t yours to begin with,” Nauman said. “They’re going on to give someone a better life, which makes it worth it.”