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'Puppy raisers' needed for service dogs in training in B.C., Alberta

There’s a new litter of puppies in the home of a volunteer for B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs, and the force is strong with them.

“We’ve got Luke, Rey, Jinn, Obi, Jabba the Pup, and R2,” said volunteer Sue Foti, Her two-year-old yellow lab, Whitney, gave birth to the puppies on May 4 – also known as Star Wars Day.

Foti is among a group of volunteers responsible for the labour and delivery of potential service dog puppies.

 “I have them until about seven weeks and then they’re released to their trainers,” she explained.

The trainers, also known as puppy raisers, care for the dogs for anywhere from 14 to 24 months. During that time, they’re responsible for taking the dogs to regular obedience classes.

“The job of the puppy raiser is really important,” explained Matthias Lenz, manager of puppy raising. “That’s where we lay the foundation. And if that’s not done, the dog has less of a chance for success.”

training, and even brought it to a complete halt at one point, there’s a growing waitlist for service dogs. In order to train them, more puppy raisers are desperately needed in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and Calgary.

“We just can’t produce enough dogs for all the people in need,” said Lenz.

Rosamund Van Leeuwen is visually impaired. She lives in West Vancouver with her guide dog, a black lab named Jill. She credits the dog with restoring her independence.

"I can do my own shopping, get on the bus and go downtown to meet somebody,” she said. “I can do that with a white cane, too, but it takes me longer to do it. And it’s not as pleasurable.”

B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs also trains autism and PTSD service dogs, and says demand for both continues to grow. The group is ramping up breeding and hiring more staff, but says none of it will work without more volunteer puppy raisers signing up. Dog food and medical care are paid for. Puppy raisers are required to provide a bed, toys, and transportation to and from training sessions.

“Most of our puppy raisers are retired, or they work part-time from home,” said Lenz. “It’s hard to make it happen when you work full-time, especially when you’re going to the office on a regular basis.”

On top of a flexible schedule, the ideal puppy raiser has a love for dogs and a willingness to help.

“When you hear the testimonies of the families that get these support dogs, it’s really life-changing for them,” said Foti. “So, knowing that these dogs have the potential of becoming support dogs, it really makes it worthwhile.”

As for the litter born on Star Wars Day, B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs is holding a naming contest. The public is encouraged to email their Star Wars-inspired dog names before May 20 to

Anyone interested in becoming a puppy raiser can contact Matthias at Top Stories

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