GUIDED is a documentary short film that I created in 2009 for the 168 Film Festival. It’s the story of Bob and Pam English, a family from Saugus, California that has created a life of raising guide dog puppies to serve the blind and those who are visually impaired. Together with their children, Kevin, Karen and Karlen, they have raised 19 puppies for Guide Dogs of America. It is something that began as a way to always have a new dog in the house but quickly became about the people these dogs serve. Families like the English’s are called “puppy raisers” and their jobs are not easy.
The Puppy Raiser is required to teach the puppy basic obedience, such as how to walk on a leash (on the left, and slightly out in front), how to sit, stay, lay down, and come when called. It is their responsibility to take the puppy through an approved basic obedience class and to attend monthly meetings. The meetings allow the puppy to interact with other dogs in training and it gives them the opportunity to talk to other Puppy Raisers and hear from guest speakers. It is a good time to make friends and compare notes on the puppies.
PUPPY IN TRAINING
Each families donate their time 24/7 from the time the puppies are eight weeks old till they are a year and a half to two years old. The families take these “puppies in training” everywhere they go, work, church, school, the mall, the movies, everywhere! It is the responsibility of the Puppy Raiser to expose it to as many different situations as possible (construction sites, heavy traffic areas, animals, children). A well socialized puppy will have fewer adjustments to make when it comes in for formal guide dog training. So it’s easy to imagine how quickly and strongly these families bond with their animal companion in training.
Then the guide dog facility, like Guide Dogs of America , sends them a letter that says “it’s time to give the dogs back”. The puppy returns to the guide dog facility for formal guide dog training at about eighteen months of age. Guide Dogs of America holds an In-For-Training Barbecue for Puppy Raisers when it is time to bring their puppies in as a way to say thank you, to get together one last time, and to give Puppy Raisers an opportunity to say good bye as they send their puppy off to formal training. Formal training” is roughly a six-month process. It’s heartbreaking to see these families as they turn in their dogs even with the understanding that they are serving a greater good, for some they may never see their dogs again.
If all goes well during the formal training and the dog desires to become a service animal, the dogs get paired up with a visually impaired student and they train for a month. The hope and desire and ultimate reward for the Puppy Raisers is to meet the blind recipient of the dog they raised at the heart-wrenching ceremony Graduation Ceremony. If you have plans to attend a ceremony anytime soon, bring a box of tissues, there is not a dry eye in the house.
And for those families that enjoy this emotional roller-coaster, the cycle begins all over again with a new eight-week old puppy!
I hope you enjoy this film that I created as my entry in the 168 (Hour) Film Festival in Glendale, CA. for 2009. Thank you to all who participated. I hope this film helps those who might not otherwise see.”