Feature Photos

Putting her best paw forward

By From page A1 | April 10, 2013

GUIDE DOG TRAINER Karrie Kinsella sits in her El Dorado Hills home with her newest student, 12-week-old Brunei. Village Life photo by Krysten Kellum

At just 12 weeks old Brunei, a yellow Lab, shows just how smart she is.

She gets good marks for potty training, comes when she’s called, sits by trainer Karrie Kinsella’s side, greets without jumping and knows to stay off the furniture. All these skills are necessary for the pup, who’s training to become a Guide Dog for the Blind.

“Anything (the dog) is doing positive you reward them,” explained Kinsella, who has already successfully raised one Guide Dog.

The El Dorado Hills mother of three joined the El Dorado Second Sight Club in 2011. She said she wanted to teach her daughters the value of community service and help a great organization. The family’s first Guide Dog, Spruce, was placed with a blind college student earlier this year.

Now Kinsella starts all over with Brunei. Step one: get the puppy to sleep through the night.

“It’s like having a brand new baby,” Kinsella said, explaining that she had to lay next to Brunei’s kennel to calm the puppy and get her to sleep.

Training Brunei on the tasks mentioned above also start immediately and while they are tasks most puppies learn, Guide Dogs have to learn them a little differently. The “come” command includes special instruction: The dog must stop between Kinsella’s legs, an approach that will help the visually impaired person find the dog. Brunei must also only walk on the left side of a person and never eat anything off the ground.

“She’s a smart one,” Kinsella said of the pup … if only she wasn’t frightened of going down the stairs.

On the play side, Guide Dogs learn to tug but no Frisbee for this little one; she shouldn’t chase anything. Kinsella always keeps Brunei on the lead, explaining, “She’ll earn more freedom but she’s got to earn it.”

While she loves to romp and play with the girls and the family dog, a Chihuahua/Dachshund mix named Charlie, Brunei also knows how to quickly calm down. In public, she’s learning to stay undistracted — a vitally important Guide Dog skill. Kinsella takes the puppy everywhere (even though Brunei gets a little car sick) and she’s learning to stay on track.

Though Kinsella said she understands people’s attraction to a cuddly, adorable puppy, she said, “You are not helping us by petting her.” She asks that people approach her, the trainer, and ask if they may greet the dog. This gives Kinsella the chance to get Brunei in a controlled sit and then she may be petted.

Over the next year, all these tasks will become second nature to Brunei. Once Kinsella has completed her portion of the work, the Lab will go to Guide Dogs for the Blind college for further training. If successful at doggie college she’ll be matched with a blind person based on her skills and temperament.

Though it’s hard to let go, Kinsella said the reward for raising a Guide Dog is worth the time and effort. “You can’t help but feel good about what you’re doing,” she said.

Without the El Dorado Second Sight organization, Kinsella said she would never have met the great people in the community who contribute to this worthy cause. She encourages more people to consider raising a Guide Dog for the Blind.

For more information call 800-295-4050 or visit guidedogs.com.

Noel Stack


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