Purposeful puppies

Faculty member brings volunteer work to campus

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The Spectrum

Haiku and Kaylin wake up at 6 a.m. each morning to run around the fields and parks in Kenmore. After playtime, Barb Mccabe feeds the two dogs breakfast and takes them to Starbucks, where employees greet the trio with smiles. They're regulars.

Mccabe, an instructional support technician for the biological sciences department, nurses her morning coffee before taking the dogs to North Campus.

But these dogs are more than just 'man's best friend' - they're pups with a purpose.

In 2005, dogs became a new addition to Mccabe's Hochstetter Hall office - she began volunteering for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Mccabe is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes; she is in charge of raising puppies before they are sent off to guide dog school.

Her on-campus job is to ensure students' labs are set up and cleaned up each week. She works with teaching assistants and professors to coordinate the campus biology lab and her co-workers support her bringing her volunteer work into the office - something for which she is thankful.

She utilizes UB as one of many methods to help her puppies get accustomed to the real world and ready for guide dog school. Mccabe has raised eight puppies since 2008, which have each gone on to graduate from guide dog school and be paired with a person who is blind.

"I always used to be interested in [guide dogs]," Mccabe said. "I read Hellen Keller books and thought guide dogs were amazing. The things they could do and how well trained they were is something I've always thought about. So, after my family pet dog died - it had been about six months to a year - I started looking for a program."

The bond forged between a raiser and the dog is the foundation for all the life lessons the guide dog needs to master, according to the Guiding Eyes website. Raisers work with the dogs for 12-16 months.

Mccabe searched for the organization's program in Erie County and said everyone at the Erie County Guiding Eyes for the Blind program was supportive and welcoming.

Since then, Mccabe has been taking in and raising one dog at a time. This year, however, she is raising two puppies: Haiku and Kaylin.

She usually likes to stick with one dog, but she raised Haiku and Kaylin's mother and couldn't let one of them go. She made the exception and now travels with two puppies instead of one.

"We try to keep a fairly low profile, but they are very good [on campus]," Mccabe said. "I've never had a problem. I used to work in another department, and I've raised two puppies upstairs [of Hochstetter Hall] and have never had a problem ... They're almost like therapy dogs; everybody likes to have a little puppy hug once in a while."

There are many aspects to raising a Guiding Eyes puppy that the average person would not think of, Mccabe said. She has to teach her puppies not to chase after leaves in the fall or to go after rabbits; she said Haiku loves rabbits and it's difficult to train a puppy not to chase after something when it's natural for dogs to do so.

Mccabe has to teach her puppies how to play fetch, too. She said most people believe it's just natural for dogs to know how to play, but a person who is blind needs his or her guiding eye dog to be able to put the ball directly back into his or her hands.

A dog has to be trained to stay at the end of the leash after he or she goes to the bathroom - otherwise, it would be impossible for a a person who is blind to clean up after his or her dog.

A dog has to be able to respond to commands such as a master tapping the inside of his or her thigh so the guiding eye dog knows to come close and sit in between his or her master's legs. This is for special circumstances, like when a blind person is sitting on a bus and needs to conserve space.

During her lunch break, she takes Haiku and Kaylin on walks around campus. UB students are constantly petting them and playing with them, which helps with the dogs' socialization training. Students walk in and out of Mccabe's office, and the dogs are accustomed to staying relaxed and silent in hectic public settings.

When it comes time to say goodbye to her puppies, Mccabe is overcome with a bittersweet feeling.

"To tell you the truth, I cry every time," Mccabe said. "It's hard giving them up after you've just raised them for over a year. But it's kind of like sending your kids off to college. When I send my kids off to college, I would not want to hold them home and tell them, 'No, I need you here.' I want them to go out and succeed and do what they are capable of doing."

She said when they go on to graduate from Guiding Eyes and are paired with someone in need, the sweet feeling takes over the sadness. Mccabe receives letters and notes from people who have been paired with her dogs.

Gemini was the last dog Mccabe sent off into the real world. Stacey Robinson, a woman who is blind and was born and raised in Tennessee, now has Gemini.

"I've had Gemini for four months now," Robinson said. "She is my fourth dog from Guiding Eyes. If I didn't have her, I would be forced to be more dependent on my husband or my other family. I am thankful for all of the puppy raisers because without their work and giving of their life and time, we wouldn't have such great guide dogs in our lives."

Mccabe knows her work is paying off when she hears how successful her puppies become at guiding the blind.

Her love for dogs and her passion and interest in guiding eye dogs, especially, is what inspires her to continue giving back to the community and raising puppies. She is glad the UB community accepts Haiku, Kaylin and all of her other puppies.

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