Inside look at how ‘puppy class’ is improving quality of life for the blind

MIDTOWN — At just 14 months old, Thatcher already has his whole life planned out for him.

The yellow Labrador, along with four other pups, are currently enrolled in “puppy class.” They'll each become a guide dog.

For over 70 years, the Long Island-based Guide Dog Foundation has been training guide dogs to provide independence and enhance mobility to people who are blind.

The training is vital as they become the eyes - and in some cases, the ears - for their future companion.

"It’s important to us that during this phase of training that they’re having lots of positive exposures to things that they’re probably [going to] experience later on," Lorin Bruzzese, puppy program manager at GDF, told PIX11 News.

On Wednesday, Thatcher and his furry classmates made their way through Penn Station at the height of the morning commute. After dodging heavy foot traffic from LIRR riders, the canines took a stroll through Midtown.

What makes their training one-of-kind is that they’re doing it in one of the loudest and unpredictable cities in the world.

"We love to go over lots of grates to make sure the dog is super comfortable with changing surfaces," Bruzzese said. "The exposure of the socialization, the sights and sounds are all part of it."

The guide dogs-in-training are paired off with volunteer puppy raisers who take them in as young as 8 weeks old until about 16 months when they’re ready to get certified and placed with a forever companion.

For puppy raiser Peter Walsh, the experience is bitter sweet.

The most rewarding thing to know is that he is going to be helping someone else live a fuller life, Walsh said.

"We kind of console ourselves with that," he said.

To learn more about the Guide Dog Foundation or how to become a puppy raiser, visit their website.

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