A local chapter of Guiding Eyes for the Blind may form if there is enough interest. Raiser Joshua Cicchino of Anson is seen with Sal on top of Quill Hill in Rangeley. Submitted photo

REGION — Joshua Cicchino and his partner, Image Moore of Anson are working to start a Western Maine chapter for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Cicchino will be at Tractor Supply on the Wilton Road 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, Aug. 20, with two dogs currently in training.

Image Moore of Anson is seen with Sal, a puppy being raised as a guide dog, at the Veteran’s Monument in Madison. Sal is the fourth dog Moore and his partner Joshua Cicchino have raised for the program. Submitted photo

The “Raiser Demonstration” is “for anyone who would like to meet a couple of these loveable pups, and see some of the skills and behaviors raisers learn to teach the pups,” Cicchino said Tuesday, Aug. 16. “Each pup is a male and approximately one year old, so people will have a demonstration of behavior we expect from young pups, but also see how an established dog looks and acts.”

Cicchino said Moore is a veteran.

“He’s my right hand man,” he stressed. “Anyone can [raise dogs], disabled or not.

“Guiding Eyes has such a need for raisers right now, they have granted us approval to start a new chapter in the Farmington area. It is a really good opportunity for anyone that can make the commitment. I am trying to drum up interest.”

Cicchino and Moore, who have been together 15 years are raising their fourth dog for Guiding Eyes. The animal lovers got into raising dogs for the program after Cicchino “got sick of my animals dying on me.”

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To start a local chapter, five to eight people in the area are needed who love dogs, have big hearts, Cicchino said. There are several options available for people to choose from, he noted.

People are needed to raise and train puppies in basic skills beginning at eight weeks of age, Cicchino said. This foundation-raising category requires a commitment to attend one-hour foundation classes every week, he noted, adding that the classes can run longer with the socialization taking place afterwards.

“The commitment needed for foundation raising is like having a baby in a sense,” Cicchino said. A lot of time is involved, he added.

A “Raiser Demonstration” will be held at Tractor Supply on the Wilton Road in Farmington 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20. Petey, seen here is a one year old yellow Lab in training to become a guide dog for the blind and will be there to greet those wanting to learn more. Submitted photo

People can also take puppies at four months or older, Cicchino stated. “Another trainer has worked with the puppies to teach core skills such as potty training,” he noted. There are two classes a month with this option, he added.

Puppy sitters are also needed. “We don’t want the pups to get too accustomed to one handler, one environment,” Cicchino said. “I live in a rural area on a dirt road, ours go to a city setting.”

Sal, a black Lab currently being raised by Cicchino and Moore will be at Tractor Supply Saturday along with Petey, a yellow Lab the couple puppy sits for.

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“Petey is wonderful,” Cicchino said. “He is a big lovable lug, perfect to introduce people [to the program].

“Sal is amazing with skills, not so good on people greeting. The dogs have to match our body movements, need to be right at your side not pulling ahead.”

Cicchino admits letting the pups go can be difficult but worth it.

“It’s like sending a kid off to college,” he stated. “They do amazing things. It is a pretty rewarding experience, especially when you see them with their new people at the end of it all.”

Joshua Cicchino and Image Moore of Anson hope to start a local chapter of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Seen at their home is Lois, the second dog they raised for the program with Roxanne their own dog in back. Submitted photo

Some dogs may not turn out to be a good fit for working with the blind, Cicchino said.

“One in three dogs makes it to be a guide dog,” he noted.

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Dogs that don’t make the cut have gone on to work in other specialties, Cicchino said.

“One is a bomb sniffing dog for the Patriots [football team],” he noted. “Some are in police work, trained to identify a person with concealed firearms, or work with children with disabilities.

“If the dog chooses working is not for them, the trainer could get the dog back. Raisers may also get the dog back when it retires.”

A non-profit, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is one of eleven accredited schools in the U.S. for training guide dogs. It provides dogs free to recipients. Applications are available at https://www.guidingeyes.org/. Cicchino asks that anyone interested in raising puppies also contact him to confirm there is enough interest to start a local chapter.

“If we’re successful, I will be known as the Regional Coordinator for The Western Maine GEB Region,” he noted.

Cicchino will teach one of the two monthly classes, as well as foundation classes for puppies eight weeks to four months. He will be the assistant for the second monthly class, led by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Regional Manager who lives in Massachusetts.

Details are still being worked out on where classes would be held. Cicchino has reached out to University of Maine at Farmington about using the athletic fields, is waiting to hear back. Confirmation for use of the Community Center in Farmington is also pending.

For more information contact Cicchino at 207-299-2783 or email [email protected]

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