The teen is one of four students to participate in a new course offered at Chrysalis School in Woodinville.
Sarah Scarborough, human resources manager at Chrysalis, recently started a local club for Guide Dogs for the Blind at the school and she will be the leader of the program.
“I’ve worked for the organization before and have also trained puppies to become service dogs,” explains Scarborough. “It’s an amazing experience and one that I wanted to give to the students here.”
The animals, which will be coming in early November from the organization’s breeding center in California, will be raised by the students in their homes for the next year. Every Friday, participants will meet with their dogs and Scarborough for a two-hour training class at school.
The puppies will frequently accompany the students when they normally attend Chrysalis, as well as throughout the day when they engage in other activities.
Families are very much a part of the process, according to Scarborough, and their permission was naturally required for participation in the program.
“The student has the main responsibility,” comments Scarborough, “but the dog is a part of the household, so all members are involved.”
She adds, “We had to make sure that each home provided the right environment and those who wanted to participate had to do a trial run with a puppy for a weekend. It’s important, especially if you’ve never had a dog, to see what it’s like to have a puppy in your house. We also needed to be sure that everyone realized the time commitment involved in this program.”
Scarborough continues to explain that the biggest challenge for the students and their families is to understand that the dogs are not just pets.
“They’re like babies,” she adds, “and they must be continually socialized. They need to learn the highest household manners and reach specific milestones in order to be ready at the end of the year.”
The hope, according to Scarborough, is that the experience is fun for the students and that they view this unique volunteer service work as valuable and rewarding.
“It takes a lot of time and heart to train a guide dog, and then to give it back is an incredibly selfless act,” she comments.
Michaela expects that she will have a hard time letting her dog go at the end of the program, but she believes that the experience will be worth it, knowing that the animal will be helping someone in need.
She says, “Who knows? Maybe I’ll handle the loss by training another guide dog!”
The 17-year-old chose to participate in the program because she loves helping people and has always had an affinity for animals. She anticipates that the experience won’t be easy though, adding, “Having the responsibility of taking care of an animal all by myself is going to be a huge challenge for me, not only having to worry about myself, but also another being.”
Emily Schuler, another student enrolled in the course, also enjoys working with animals, and the added element of giving back to the community in this manner appealed to her. She is particularly looking forward to taking her puppy into stores with her when she goes shopping. “I think getting the dog to listen to me could sometimes be challenging,” she notes. “And I know I will get attached to it and that it will be hard for me. But, it will also be rewarding when the dog goes to someone who needs it.”
After the year is over, the dogs will head to Oregon for formal training and when they are ready to graduate, the students will officially present their animals to their new owners.
“They’ll be able to see the efforts of their hard work,” says Scarborough, “and it will make them feel really good.”