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Central Illinois Couple Trains Puppy To Help The Blind

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LOVINGTON, Ill. (AP) - Gayla and Phil Trower welcomed Trixie, the black Labrador  retriever puppy, into their home almost a year ago. The dog was their constant  companion and has accompanied the couple to stores, restaurants and even the  movies, but Trixie recently headed back to her birthplace in Michigan for a new  phase of her life.

The Trowers are volunteer puppy raisers for Leader Dogs for the Blind, a Rochester Hills, Mich., organization that works to breed,  train and match guide dogs with people in need.

“We flew to Rochester  when she was 7 weeks old and picked her up and flew her back,” Mrs. Trower  said.

According to its website, the organization provides guide dogs to blind and visually impaired people to aid with their independence, mobility and quality of life.

Every year, more than 270 students attend a 26-day  residential training program to be paired with their guide dogs.

Before  the dogs get to the final phase of their training, there are many important  steps and volunteers involved along the way. The canines come from the  organization’s own breeding stock and are born into the homes of volunteers.

Each puppy then finds its way into the home of a volunteer puppy raiser  dedicated to teaching basic obedience commands and social skills.

The  Trowers found out about the opportunity when they saw another puppy raiser out  and about in a neighboring town.

Trixie’s first two months were spent  housetraining. Then came basic commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “come” and  “go to your mat.” “Park” is another important command, the Trowers said.

“She just hears that word and she will go to the bathroom  immediately,” Mrs. Trower said.

Both Phil and Gayla Trower work at CHI  Overhead Doors in Arthur, and last January, Trixie started going to work. She  slept all day while Gayla Trower worked, and the two of them took a walk at
lunchtime.

The company president’s wife trains pet therapy dogs for  nursing homes, Mrs. Trower said. “He was real open to her coming to work. I had  no problem. And that’s the first dog that’s ever come to work at CHI.”

Trixie has gone to Wal-Mart, Rural King, restaurants, movies, a  firehouse, church and other locations. By law, because she is training to be a  service dog, she was allowed to go anywhere her handlers go.

“Basically everywhere we go, she goes,” Mrs. Trower said.

“Leader Dog wants you  to expose her to as many things as you can so that she’s not thrown by any situations when she gets out there,” Trower said.

The Trowers attended meetings once a month with a puppy counselor from Peoria who helps coordinate other puppy raisers throughout the region. They all recently attended the Illinois State Fair together, and another time, they met at a Cracker Barrel.

“There were legs and tails sticking out the back, waitresses stepping over them,” Trower said.

When Trixie first went to live with the couple last September, she joined Sophie, a 13-year-old poodle, and Sadie, a 12-year-old lab, but Sadie died from cancer in December.

Now the Trowers have dealt with another kind of loss, as Trixie returned to Michigan to go through different phases of training to prepare her to work for a blind or visually impaired person.

“I’ve always tried to look at it as a job, because I knew it was going to be hard,” Mrs. Trower said.

She has plans to adopt a new puppy for a pet. She has already given the English cream golden retriever a name Lucy.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience, especially if she makes it,” said Mrs. Trower of the couple’s work with Trixie.

If she doesn’t pass all of her training phases, the organization will give the Trowers the first opportunity to adopt her.

“We’re not going to diss her or anything,” she said.

The Trowers plan to raise another dog for the organization when they both retire. For more information on Leader Dogs for the Blind, visit www.leaderdog.org.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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