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A yellow guide dog in a yellow vest at a sports stadium.

Puppy Tales: Becoming a puppy raiser

By Karin McArthur, Lead, Marketing & Communications, CNIB Foundation Ontario

As a civics teacher, Jeff Barr always made a point to instill in his students the importance of paying it forward. So, it should come as no surprise that Jeff and his family decided to become puppy raisers for CNIB Guide Dogs after his 40-year career.

"When I retired, I asked my wife if I could get a dog, but she wasn't sold on the idea," says Jeff. "One day, I was reading a local newspaper, and there was an advert asking for puppy raisers to participate in raising future guide dogs. I suggested that to my wife, and now we're raising our third puppy for the program."

The job of a puppy raiser is not just to provide a safe home, but also to socialize the puppy by taking them to various environments and into different situations to prepare them for a future career as a guide dog (partnered with someone who is blind), buddy dog (partnered with a child or adult who may benefit from a guide dog in the future) or an ambassador dog (partnered with a CNIB Foundation staff member or volunteer to raise awareness about guide dogs and buddy dogs). Jeff and his wife, Valerie, have helped raise three puppies for the program: Elsie (Buddy Dog, Calgary) and Cooper (Ambassador Dog, Carleton Place), and they’re currently raising Magic.

"I truly believe in what I'm doing, and I love every moment of it," says Jeff. "Despite having lived in Canada for 54 years, I feel like a tourist in my own city because of the socializing I'm doing with the puppies. I'm meeting so many incredible people, having great conversations with so many strangers, and exploring and experiencing the city with another volunteer puppy raiser, Margaret Fearon, and her puppy, Boyd."

While Jeff admits it can be hard to say goodbye to the puppies, he takes great comfort in knowing that the dogs are going on to do great things.

"If I can help give the gift of independence to someone who is blind – well, that's why I keep doing it," says Jeff. "I feel like I'm still teaching – and right now, I have the best student ever."

His advice to prospective puppy raisers is simple.

"You're not only going to enrich your life, but the lives of so many others – and that's why I do it, and that's why I encourage more people to do it."