WILTON — Brunswick residents Wendy and Kevin Flynn visited fourth-grade students at Academy Hill School on Thursday with Orchid, a 14-month-old golden Labrador they’re raising for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Teacher Brenda LaVerdiere said students researched how something has changed over time as part of a passion project. 

“Each child has a different passion,” LaVerdiere said.

Abigail Donald and Halee Demings chose to study the history of guide dogs.

Educational technician Lena Rutberg, who helped the girls, said they learned about Buddy, the first seeing-eye dog, and his handler, Morris Frank. Rutberg organized the Flynns’ visit.

Wendy said Guiding Eyes has a breeding facility where the dogs are born. When they are 6 weeks old, they are introduced to local volunteers and go home with them for a few days. During this time the dogs are evaluated to see if they have the temperament to become guide dogs.

Dogs are placed with volunteers at 8 weeks old, who then raise it until it’s 16 months old, Wendy said.

She said they got involved after her husband read about Guiding Eyes’ need for volunteers. They went to four classes before getting their first puppy, and then attended classes with the puppy once per week.

When the puppy reaches 4 months old, classes are held once per month. The dog stays with the person raising it until it’s 16 months old.

She said each dog is then tested in several ways, such as having umbrellas opened nearby, having vacuum cleaners run, coins jiggled, and food left on the floor to see if the dog will leave it alone.

Some dogs are trained as seeing-eye dogs, others for use with autistic clients.

The first dog the Flynns raised was placed with an autistic boy and has been with him a year, Wendy said.

The pups are almost 2 years old before they’re paired with someone, she said.

“We teach ‘sit, down, stay,’ name recognition and ‘stand.’ This command is needed so the handler can put the dog’s identifying coat and harness on. The dogs are also taught to walk in a straight line and not get distracted,” Wendy said. 

The students watched two short videos. One featured Gary, a New York City resident blind since birth, who was afraid a dog might take control of his life.

“My dog gave me a level of independence I had never experienced in my life. Walking with him is like flying,” Gary says in the video. 

“It takes patience, love and a lot of hard work. It’s definitely worth it,” says a volunteer in the video.

“Each dog has its own personality. It takes time to match each dog with a person, for them to get used to one another,” Wendy said.

Clients receiving dogs spend 26 days in training with the dog before going home, she said.

Wendy said more than $45,000 is spent on each dog. The dog’s services are provided to the handler free of charge.

“When you see a service dog, don’t distract, touch or stare at it,” she said.

For more information about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, visit guidingeyes.org.

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Abigail Donald, left, and Halee Demings hold the harness on Fred, a large stuffed dog. At right is Orchid, a 14-month-old Labrador being raised by volunteers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Volunteer puppy raiser Wendy Flynn and Orchid, a 14-month-old Labrador, visit fourth-grade students at Academy Hill School in Wilton on Thursday. Orchid is being raised for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and will be returned to the organization in July for more training.

Orchid, a 14-month old Labrador with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, focuses on a hand signal being given by Wendy Flynn of Brunswick, who is raising the puppy for the organization. In the background is educational technician Lena Rutberg, who helped bring the dog to Academy Hill School on Thursday as part of a fourth-grade passion project.

Academy Hill School fourth-grade students Halee Demings, left, and Abigail Donald hold posters they made about guide dogs as part of their passion project. On the table is a dog house they made. 

A fourth-grade student at Academy Hill School in Wilton checks out the special harness on Fred, a replica of a guide dog. The students heard a presentation on raising dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind by Wendy and Kevin Flynn of Brunswick.

Volunteer puppy raiser Wendy Flynn of Brunswick looks on as Orchid, a 14-month-old Labrador, gets scratches from students Abigail Donald, left, and Halee Demings on Thursday. The fourth-grade students at Academy Hill School in Wilton researched the history of guide dogs for their passion project.


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