They may look adorably helpless now, but in just two years these little pups will be transforming the lives of blind and vision impaired South Australians.
As the next generation of See Differently guide dogs, the 10 puppies born in our ‘B’ and ‘C’ litters have just begun their guide dog training with Sofie Pridgeon and her team of puppy education specialists.
But it’s not just the puppies that require training – Sofie and her team are also responsible for providing education, resources and support to our volunteer puppy educators, volunteer ‘Bed and Breakfast’ (BnB) boarders, and volunteer emergency boarders.
With 40 dogs in See Differently’s puppy program and a small team of just 14 staff, our volunteers play a vital role in preparing these young pups for working-dog life. Put simply, “we wouldn’t have a guide or assistance dog program without our volunteers,” Sofie said.
Thanks to record numbers of puppies entering our ranks, we’re on the lookout for dog-loving South Australians who can volunteer their time to care for and train our guide dog puppies.
Could this be you?
From eight weeks to one year
Training begins for See Differently puppies at just eight weeks old, when they’re each transferred from their whelper to a volunteer puppy educator.
“Handover day is a big day for our puppies,” Sofie said. “Their training really starts at that point, when they’re given to our volunteer puppy educators.”
Once the puppies have received their 10-week vaccination, volunteer puppy educators gradually start introducing their pup to new environments, like cafes and restaurants, shopping centres and public transport – often with the support of Sofie and her team through structured classes.
“While they’re young, it’s great to give them as many experiences as possible, so we try to increase the amount of classes they attend over time,” Sofie said.
Around their first birthday, See Differently vets undertake important health checks on each pup. Once the pups receive the ‘all clear’, it’s time for them to commence intensive training to prepare them to become a guide or assistance dog.
At this point, our volunteer puppy educators farewell their pups, who enter into the care of our BnB boarders.
Forget Airbnb, try Puppy BnB!
Like the name suggests, volunteer BnB boarders provide a comfy bed, meals and a taxi service for their pups, usually for a period of about six months, while the puppies attend guide or assistance dog ‘school’ at See Differently in Gilles Plains.
“Our BnB boarders are responsible for dropping the dogs off every day for school by nine o’clock and picking them up around five o’clock every day,” Sofie said.
“They give the dog a bed and a meal, they bring them in for training, and have them over the weekends.”
Understandably, there are times when our puppy educators and BnB boarders and sometimes clients aren’t able to take care of their pups — whether it’s because they’re heading away on holiday, going into hospital for a medical procedure, or just need a break.
That’s where emergency boarders come into the picture.
“Emergency boarders are the ones we turn to and ask if they can take a dog temporarily,” Sofie said.
“It could be for a day, a week or a month, depending on what we need.”
What it takes to become a guide dog puppy volunteer
Whether you’re interested in becoming a puppy educator, BnB border or emergency boarder, volunteering with See Differently gives you the opportunity to make a significant contribution to both the lives of our pups, and people living with severe vision impairment in the community.
Families, singles, retirees and working professionals all find joy and connection caring for our pups, providing them with a range of different experiences that help prepare them as they embark on their careers as guide or assistance dogs.
While prior experience with dogs isn’t a necessity, if you are interested in volunteering, there are few requirements you’ll need to meet.
“You need to have a driver’s licence and a car that works, because we need to make sure that if the dog gets sick, a volunteer is able to drive the dog to a vet,” Sofie said.
“You also need to have time to dedicate to your dog, and be willing to fit the dog into your life, because they can’t be left at home by themselves in the early stages of training.”
We ask that all volunteers “try their best” with the training, and remember that puppies in training aren’t pets – so you’ll have to be emotionally prepared to hand them back at the end of their training!
“We don’t expect people to be perfect, but training needs to be consistent…it’s also important to remember that puppies in training aren’t pets,so shouldn’t be allowed on the couch, for instance,” Sofie said.
“And obviously you’ll have to give them back when they’re finished their training, which is always a hard one.”
Want to get involved?
If you’d like to start volunteering with our guide or assistance dogs, but aren’t sure which option is best for you, Sofie recommends becoming an emergency boarder as a first step.
“You can have a dog for a couple of nights and see how you like it,” she said.
“Then, if you’re really enjoying it, you could investigate becoming a bed and breakfast boarder or a puppy educator in the future.
“Ultimately, as long as you’re willing to have one of our beautiful dogs in your life, we’re willing to try and find a way to make it work for you.”
If you’d like to learn more or register your interest in volunteering with See Differently’s guide dogs, head to our Volunteering page.