By Anne Forline
Special To The
Gloucester City News
On January 21, the after-school program at Cold Springs School went to the dogs.
photo: A litter of 'goldens' born recently at The Seeing Eye campus
The club’s members help raise puppies for “The Seeing Eye,” which is the oldest dog school in the country. It breeds and trains puppies for a special destiny – to serve as guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired.
Bellmawr resident Chris Smolka, leader of “My Eyes 4 You,” brought German Shepherd Milani, the 24th puppy she has helped to raise.
She described how she and other volunteers help in the training process.
When a puppy is about seven weeks old, it is placed with a volunteer family. The family provides a loving, social environment for the puppy, teaches it basic obedience, and expose the young dog to a variety of social situations.
The puppies go to stores, malls, ride on public transportation, and even attend professional sporting ev-ents. Milani and her puppy pals, Villa and Kindel, have gone to River Sharks and Philadelphia Wings games. They have also toured the Battleship New Jersey.
Mrs. Smolka said puppies need to be exposed to these situations so they will already be accustomed to them once they are matched with a blind or visually impaired person.
A puppy stays with the volunteer family for about a year to 15 months.
Then, the puppy is returned to “The Seeing Eye,” where it will receive four more months of specialized training.
Here, the dog will be outfitted with a harness and will be trained to lead a person while listening for commands. It will learn to stop at curbs, guide its owner around obstacles and practice walking in places with heavy traffic and lots of people.
Learning how the dogs are trained and what special job awaits them impressed the children at New Jersey After 3. They eagerly listened as Mrs. Smolka spoke and asked her lots of questions.
One favorite part of the presentation was being able to touch and feel a real Braille book.
Also, they enjoyed watching puppy raisers Maddie and Kathy Fee, Rachel Powell and Jerry Jericek, demonstrate basic obedience commands.
Although the students liked watching the dogs in action, their favorite part was just getting a chance to pet them.
Second grader Leah Hernandez, 7, was excited that the dogs came for a visit.
As she scratched Milani’s head, Leah commented, “I liked learning about what training the dogs get. It’s nice they will help blind people get to places.”
Cody Bathurst, 7, agreed and said, “It’s cool they help blind people.”
For more information about “The Seeing Eye” or “My Eyes for You,” visit http://www.seeingeye.org/