AUSTIN (KXAN) — Guide dogs help people who are blind or partially sighted navigate the world around them, but before they can do that, they must undergo training.
“His job is just to stay focused on where we’re going,” said Paul Fontaine, a volunteer with the Austin chapter of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a national organization that trains and places dogs for the blind and visually impaired. .
At 11 months, Trixie, a yellow lab, is soon to be mentoring someone, so Fontaine makes sure she can handle all the pressure.
Fontaine is responsible for getting the Austin chapter off the ground. He’s starting with Trixie, but hopes to add more dogs and volunteers soon.
“We’re starting from scratch right now,” Fontaine said. “We are looking for volunteers. We need puppy raisers. We need puppy sitters.
To become a volunteer, there is a process that includes vetting and ensuring that the candidate will be suitable and able to care for the puppy.
“Walking them around, teaching them and teaching them manners and socializing them, so when they’re working in the real world with someone who’s visually impaired, they ignore everything else,” Fontaine said.
After about a year with the pup, they will return to Guide Dogs for the Blind for further training.
Fontaine said it can be hard to know the pup will eventually leave, but he knows the pup will change someone’s life.
“You can give back to your community,” Fontaine said.
Not all dogs pass the training. Some end up helping other organizations that help people in need.
Fontaine said if you see a dog like Trixie with its owner on the go, it’s best not to approach and pet it, especially when it’s just started training.
Fontaine said they are currently looking for volunteers.
For more information on the Austin chapter, see its Facebook page.