Six Labrador retriever puppies — some whimpering to be set loose from their leashes — sat in a circle with their new owners in the lobby of Woodway’s La Quinta Inn last week.
Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc. community field representative Sandi Alsworth dropped off the six 8-week-old puppies to Robinson High School students for an FFA-supervised agriculture experience for the upcoming year.
The students will be responsible for house-training and socializing the animals, which includes training them not to respond to approaching animals or people when out in public.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is an organization that breeds, trains and gives guide dogs to visually impaired people for free.
About 1,400 puppies are sent out each year for socialization training and about 325 graduate to be guide dogs, Alsworth said.
Those that don’t become guide dogs can go into other services, such as therapy, hearing or companion dogs. They can also return to the original trainer to be pets, she said.
The puppies traveled from north of San Francisco to Waco to stay with the students for the next 15 months before entering formal training.
The students will spend the first month house-training the puppies by keeping them in crates at home and at school.
As the puppies age, they will be taken anywhere they might go as a guide dog, such as restaurants or stores.
All veterinarian bills are paid by Guide Dogs for the Blind, but the students provide food, toys and crates, Alsworth said.
Desiree Mejia, 16, will train yellow Lab Nugget and said she joined the project because she always wanted to learn how to train dogs and saw this as an opportunity to do so.
Faith Johnson, 16, received Malta, one of the black Labrador puppies.
Johnson said this will be her first FFA project, but looks forward to the benefit her work will provide the blind community.
Johnson said she decided to participate because she always wanted to take an agriculture class and wanted her project to help others.
“It’s going to be sad to see her go, but it’ll be worth it,” Johnson said.