By Kaitlin Bain
Vivian Helms loves being a parent. A pet parent, that is.
Unlike other students, she has two dogs, a rat and a guinea pig. She is also taking care of a friend’s puppy, Chet, and working with him on potty training, chewing habits and other puppy issues.
“I’ve already had to buy a new laptop cord, which was $80,” she said. “I’ve already had to splice together the wires for the speakers because he thought that looked delicious. I’ve had to clean a lot of pee and deal with him crying in the middle of the night because he’s in a crate.”
Puppy-proofing her house for Chet, however, will help her with her next undertaking. She is one of the newest puppy raisers for the Texas Tech chapter of the Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers. Her puppy will join another one who is already a regular visitor in the College of Media & Communication.
Helms said she first learned about this opportunity at the student organization fair at the beginning of the semester.
“I walked by a lady who had a dog—and I’m a dog person, obviously—and she was like, ‘Oh hey, we do guide dogs for the blind,’” she said. “And I’m already involved in the deaf community, so I thought why not get involved in the blind community, too.”
She already has training experience, having trained one of her other dogs, Scarlet, to be a service animal to help with nightmares.
Kaitlyn Beckert, a media and communications graduate student, started the organization’s Lubbock chapter. It gives volunteers puppies to raise until they are ready to be sent to full-time training, where they will learn the final steps needed to be a good guide dog.
College students present an interesting opportunity for these new puppies because they live in an environment with many new distractions, Beckert said.
“I mean, sitting through class is a good opportunity for the dog to learn how to be settled and relaxed because it will most likely be working in a classroom or work environment where they will need to be settled,” she said. “Not only that but also just walking through the hall where there are swarms of people and they have to know how to react in that type of situation they can’t be startled by any of that.”
The presence of Helms’s other dogs at home will further enhance her puppy’s training. Teaching the puppy to work even when there are other dogs playing will enhance his or her ability to cut out distractions, Helms said.
While the process involves a lot of work for Helms, there are many aspects she said she is excited about.
“I’m most excited to find out the name of my puppy,” she said. “The person who raised the breeder dogs is given a letter and they get to pick all the names for all the puppies, but they just have to start with all the same letters.”
Helms is one of nine puppy raisers for seven puppies, who will eventually go to training in Boring, Oregon, in about a year. When her puppy graduates from the Oregon program, he or she will either be assigned to his new owner and go to work as a guide dog or will be given a “career change” and work with the Ronald McDonald house.
Helms will be given the opportunity to adopt the dog back if his temperament does not work out.
“It’s like being a parent,” she said. “I just want to see my puppy do well and graduate.”