PORT ROYAL - The Juniata County 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Club recently journeyed to Morristown, N.J., to join hundreds of other club members in celebrating 70 years of puppy raising.
Hosted by the Seeing Eye staff, the event, which took place on July 14, celebrated the 1942 partnership of The Seeing Eye and 4-H, and was held to thank the nearly 500 families of puppy raisers for their dedication and service over the years.
The group from Juniata County spent the day celebrating with several different programs. Dog training demonstrations, body scoring, photo displays, videos, merchandise sales, raffle and door prizes, and face painting were just a few of the exciting activities the event provided.
Juniata County 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Club members, from left, Jensen and Marley Swartz, of Port Royal, and Caitlin Queitzsch, of Mifflintown, show their face paintings during an event celebrating 70 years of puppy raising on July 14, in Morristown, N.J. The Seeing Eye and 4-H, which partnered in 1942, held the event to thank nearly 500 families for their involvement in puppy raising over the years.
The club travelers included Jean, Jensen and Marley Swartz, of Port Royal, and puppy, "Jazz;" Patti Gessner, and puppy, "Cody;" Kim and Greg Luther, and puppy, "Champion;" and Kathy and Caitlin Queitzsch.
Jean Swartz, who has been raising puppies with her family for 18 years, was thrilled to be part of the event. Swartz, who has now trained 21 puppies, including Jazz, began her adventure after seeing a 4-H advertisement in the newspaper in 1994, and decided raising puppies would be a great project for her boys.
Though training the pups is no easy task, Swartz says it is a very fulfilling and enjoyable experience.
The Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program began as a joint effort of The Seeing Eye, Inc., and the 4-H Youth Development Program. Participants include youths from 9 to 19 years of age, and adults. Since 1929, The Seeing Eye has partnered with blind people who, "seek to enhance their independence, dignity and self-confidence through the use of Seeing Eye dogs."
Although many of the clubs still have a strong 4-H connection, there are also many clubs independent of 4-H.
Clubs meet regularly to plan outings, provide socialization and share tips on teaching good puppy behavior.
When it's time for the puppy to begin formal training, the dog returns to The Seeing Eye to learn to assist a blind person in leading a more independent lifestyle.
Swartz said puppies come into the homes to be trained when they are 7 weeks old, and leave when they are between 15 and 18 months. While in the homes, puppies are nurtured, trained and socialized.
"It's more of a reward than it is work," she said.
Swartz added that nurturing a puppy is much like caring for a child, making sure the puppy is fed, healthy and cared for at all times.
Aside from typical commands such as "sit," "rest," "quiet," "no" and "off," puppies are also taught good manners and how to behave in social situations.
Swartz emphasized that the socialization of the puppies is the most important part of their upbringing, as puppies must learn how to act in large crowds and places in which they must behave and stay silent.
Puppies are taken everywhere from church to baseball games, where they must practice their social skills.
The Seeing Eye trains Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Labrador and golden cross breeds. Poodles and boxers are also trained for those in need with allergies. Swartz has raised all of regular breeds The Seeing Eye provides.
Among the festivities at the Morristown event was a presentation by Bill Mooney called "With a Dogs Eyes." Storyteller Mooney made for the highlight of many of the club members' day, as he captured the life of Morris Frank.
"In 'With a Dog's Eyes,' Mooney brings to life Morris Frank, whose single-minded determination to enable himself and other blind people to travel independently with Seeing Eye dogs, opened a new world for them. The story touches the hearts of all who have overcome adversity," according to The Seeing Eye.
In 1927, Frank read an article about dogs being trained as guides for blinded veterans of World War I.
Frustrated by his own lack of mobility as a blind person, he was inspired to write its author for help. Dorothy Harrison Eustis was an American training German shepherd dogs in Switzerland, and when she received Morris Frank's letter, she agreed to help him.
In 1928, after completing instruction in Switzerland, Frank arrived in New York City, proving the ability of his dog Buddy before throngs of news reporters.
This story, presented in such an "awesome" way, touched Swartz. "We were all crying," she said.
Another big highlight of the trip was the awarding of a $1,000 scholarship to club member Caitlin Queitzsch, 17, of Mifflintown. Nearly 50 raisers received scholarships at the special event. Any senior in high school who has raised at least two puppies for The Seeing Eye, one of which was raised during the junior or senior year, and who has fulfilled the criteria and obligations in raising the pups, is eligible for the award.
The scholarship goes to the college of the recipient's choice. Queitzsch, who will attend Hocking College, was thrilled to receive such an honor. "It's going to be a great blessing since I'll be supporting myself through college."
Queitzach was "born into the club," as her mother, a co-founder of the Juniata County 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Club, was pregnant with her when the program was started.
During body condition scoring at the event, Jazz scored a three plus, with three being perfect. Cody scored a four, with the scale of one being skinny and five being fat. The trainers of both puppies were very happy with the scores.
"I must say Jazz and Cody handled everything very well!" Swartz said.
For more information on The Seeing Eye, or to learn how to become a puppy raiser, visit www.seeingeye.org or call (973) 539-4425.