On four legs and dressed in a blue vest, he’s one of St. Peter’s newest residents.
His name is Madden and he’s a leader dog in training. Part of Leader Dogs for the Blind, Madden is being raised by volunteer puppy raisers Tiffany and David Patten and their son McGuire, St. Peter residents who have chosen to volunteer their home as a home for Madden as he learns basic obedience house manners and good etiquette in a variety of different environments.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Tiffany Patten said. “ He’s been with us for six months.”
Founded by three Detroit-area Lions Clubs members in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind provides guide dogs to people who are blind and visually impaired to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life.
Leader dogs are raised by volunteer puppy raisers, without whom the program could not survive. There are nearly 400 puppy raisers in 22 states and Canada but the program itself is based in Rochester Hills, Mich.
The Pattens are what are known as distance raisers. Tiffany Patten said the family heard about the program when they lived in Rochester Hills, but didn’t consider getting involved themselves until just recently.
“It’s just something we never gave a second thought to at the time,” Tiffany Patten said.
But during a recent visit to Rochester Hills, they saw a sign advertising the need for puppy raisers and the idea took root. They applied for the program in mid-July and got accepted in August. In October Tiffany Patten drove to Rochester Hills to pick up Madden and bring him to St. Peter. He was just six weeks old.
“It’s a tangible thing to do,” Tifanny Patten said. “It’s one thing to say we donated money to some type of organization. Raising a puppy is something tangible.”
Puppy raisers are expected not only to teach the puppies manners, but to expose them to environments such as churches, stores, amusement parks and sports venues. They introduce them to different types of people and animals, have them walk across different types of floors and up different types of stairs and take them near loud sirens and on busy sidewalks.
“I don’t think it’s a horrible time commitment “ Tiffany Patten said. “They just fall into your routine. We haven’t really changed what we do, we just take him with us.”
The Pattens also meet with a “puppy counselor” once a month. The meetings give them the opportunity to meet other local puppy raisers and go on field trips. Recently the group visited the Twin Cities and took the dogs on the Light Rail, exposing them to public transportation.
When Madden returns to the Leader Dog facility, he will begin his formal training and learn how to cross lanes of traffic and work in a harness. But for now, he gets to focus on simpler things.
“What he’s working on now is sitting before getting attention in public,” Tiffany Patten said.
As for going out in public, Tiffany Patten said he has already visited Econofoods, the local movie theater and Walmart. Because Madden is still a service dog in training, he doesn’t fall under any laws guaranteeing his entry into stores or building, but the Pattens say they’ve never been turned away.
“We’ve never been told ‘no,’” Tiffany Patten said. “But, you definitely get a lot of mixed reactions. You see a lot of funny looks.”
And Madden is quickly becoming accustomed to performing in public.
“We were selective about where we took him at first,” David Patten said. “But now we can take him everywhere and be gone for half the day.”
Whether or not Madden gets to be a guide dog is ultimately up to him. Some dogs go through a “career change” before getting assigned to a client and either return to the family that raised them or get placed in another leader dog home.
“They don’t force the dog,” Tiffany Patten said. “The dog basically chooses if they make it through.”
Leader dogs are provided to clients free of charge. The Pattens said they are hopeful Madden will complete the rest of his training successfully and that they will get to meet whomever he gets paired with.
For now though, they just love having Madden around. He gets along well with their other pets, a dog named Dude and, a cat named Missy and when not wearing his uniform, he’s just a normal puppy.
He loves meeting new people too, though Tiffany Patten has one request for those get the pleasure of running into him around town.
“Please don’t pet him while he’s working,” she said. “It might distract him.”
Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @sphjessicabies