PRoUD member Mia Barkel introduces puppy Xylon to a University of Delaware student./Photo by Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography
Tesa Stone’s first service puppy, a female Labrador-Golden cross named Hennig, proved to be a “pawfect” student. Upon graduating from PRoUD (Puppy Raisers of the University of Delaware), she landed a job on the West Coast, where she serves as the eyes for another (human) student.
“Hennig was made for this,” says Stone, whom she trained for a year. “It’s heart-warming and heart-breaking to give [them] back … then you get that final letter of acceptance and you know all that work—yours and the puppy’s—paid off.”
Stone, a Wilmington native, graduated last spring from UD with a pre-veterinary and animal science degree, and is now in graduate school. At UD, she was a four-year member and president of PRoUD, one of two university-based clubs that raise puppies for The Seeing Eye program based in Morristown, New Jersey.
The club’s UD chapter has grown in 12 years since its inception, and today cares for 24 dogs—each paired with its own puppy raiser—and attracting about 100 students. Kimberly Winnington founded the club during college, later becoming The Seeing Eye’s full-time Puppy Development Coordinator and training 500 some puppies a year.
In collaboration with the Center for Counseling and Student Development, PRoUD hosts multiple campus events each semester, while also holding meetings, promoting on social media and working with young pups around campus.
Stone says a big selling point for future puppy raisers is the initial interaction they have with the puppies. For some, that happens as early as their campus tour. “If a tour groups passes by, the guide will often point out the puppy raiser group,” says Stone.
Of the roughly 100 puppies raised on UD’s campus, 40 have passed the program./Photos by Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography
PRoUD members start as puppy sitters, occasionally filling in for a full-time puppy raiser. To become certified, they must complete a certain number of hours in training (dog handling and commands); there are also puppy-policy quizzes, and approval from dorms is required.
“Much of it is putting yourself out there and spending time with the dogs (a minimum of 50 sitting hours, and one overnight stay),” Stone says. “Some choose to [remain] sitters their whole time.”
The Seeing Eye puppies, bred specifically for the program, arrive on campus when they’re about 8 weeks old, and are returned between 14 and 16 months later for medical evaluations and four months of Puppy College with professional trainers. If successful, they’re matched as a guide for a visually-impaired owner, who is then also trained in handling. For dogs that don’t make the cut, puppy raisers get the right of first refusal, then The Seeing Eye taps a lengthy adoption list. Of the roughly 100 puppies raised on UD’s campus, 40 have passed the program.
All potential guide dogs have their own personalities, says Stone. Her Hennig was laid back and “chill.” Her second, Brooke, another female Labrador-Golden cross, was the happiest dog she ever met.
The partnership between student and puppy benefits both friend and Fido.
“We, too, grow as responsible individuals by raising a living, breathing, dependent companion,” Stone says.
The other benefit, she says, is that “we’re also raising disability awareness.”