By Eileen and Paul Goldfinger
The Seeing Eye is an organization, based in Morristown, New Jersey, which provides guide dogs for the blind. When we lived in Morris County, we often went to Morristown where we would see trainers walking with their dogs, getting them ready to be turned over to a blind person. It never ceased to be fascinating to watch — the dogs would stop at the curb and check out the traffic before moving ahead. They always seemed so focused and dedicated to the task.
Roy Pontier, 66, has lived in Ocean Grove for 35 years in a house that has been family owned for generations. He lives by himself but he often has a guest. Roy is a puppy raiser for The Seeing Eye. Currently Roy’s houseguest is Valor, a one-year-old German Shepherd, which Roy has had since Valor was 7 weeks old. Valor was bred at the organization’s modern facility in Chester, New Jersey. There they breed Labs, Golden Retrievers, Golden Lab mix and Shepherds. They are bred for intelligence, temperament and size. They tend to be smaller than other dogs of their breed.
Here is Valor when he was about 6 weeks old. Valor will stay with Roy until October, when he will be returned to the organization, where he will spend a month undergoing a thorough examination including X-Rays. Then he will work with a trainer for 4 months.
After that, if he is one of the 80 percent that are “eligible,” he will move into a Seeing Eye owned apartment with a blind “student.” Valor will be with his prospective owner 24/7 for one month. Then, if all goes well, the new couple will leave for the owner’s home, which could be anywhere in America or Canada. The blind owner pays only $150.00.
Roy and Valor walk 4 miles each day through Ocean Grove. Roy tells us that they have made many friends along the way. Roy trains Valor to understand basic commands such as “come,” “stay,” “forward” and “down.” Roy also concerns himself with house training, and, especially important, with socialization. Roy has gone on field trips with Valor and the Monmouth County Puppy Raisers Club. They take train rides and visit Blue Claws baseball games and the Monmouth Mall. They go to the airport and enter planes, where pilots start the engines for them. Roy has to worry about Valor’s weight. He is told what kind of food to give, and he is reimbursed by the organization for food and vet bills. Valor never eats human food.
The two of them visited us on our porch. Valor was so gentle and well behaved while we interviewed Roy, that we wanted to hug him and keep him. He carefully observed a fly on the ground, but he didn’t bark or react suddenly. Roy says that one command which he may not teach is “heal.” The dog needs to be the leader — the person follows the dog.
Valor is Roy’s 3rd puppy in 5 years. The organization requires that Roy wait for six months or more before offering him another house guest. During that wait, Roy gets to babysit other puppies as needed, and, if Valor doesn’t work out as a guide dog, Roy gets the first chance to adopt him. Roy acknowledges that giving Valor up will be painful, but he is “mentally prepared” to deal with that.
Seeing Eye is a privately funded organization. If you are interested in donating or participating, go to Seeing eye web site link
SOUNDTRACK: Carol King: