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Ivy Harris is a puppy carer from the bayside region in Victoria. Having spent over a decade as a puppy carer, she has some valuable insights she wants to share with our readers.

Why did you want to become a Seeing Eye Dogs puppy carer?

I was looking to do some sort of volunteering, and had looked around at various organisations. Puppy caring was one that I thought would definitely suit me, as I did miss having a dog around. I work from home and I knew it would be a good way of getting up and away from the computer. All in all, no excuses really not to!

What support do you receive from Seeing Eye Dogs?

I’m in my 10th year now, Seeing Eye Dogs, as an organisation has grown and the support throughout, from the puppy caring team has always been accessible, friendly, responsive and pro-active through these changes. Support from your puppy development training is always there, no matter how mundane you may think your query or problem is.

What do you love about being a puppy carer?

I love meeting new pups! They have all been different personalities, with their own quirks, learning capabilities, liveliness, softness and taking them along their journey is so interesting. I always learn something new with each pup as they grow.

I love how they get me out and about. I hadn't been on a local bus here in Melbourne before I had a pup! Also, I regularly walk to the local shops rather than pop in the car. I go on the train and visit other local suburbs. I do lots of stuff that I didn't really do before. I know more people in my local community as well and especially all the local shopkeepers.

What is the training like?

The training is much as you would expect, if you have had a dog before. It is all about toilet training using the crate/den, establishing the basic building blocks of commands sit, wait, down etc, getting them out and about early to experience the world around us and exposing them to different social situations.

What is different with a Seeing Eye Dogs pup is that I try to be more consistent in getting the pup to react correctly, as the idea is to prepare the pup for its working life. I was probably content with my own pet dogs ‘sort of' doing a ‘sit’, however I am aware that the pup needs to be more responsive to commands for their potential future working role so I am never complacent about the training. The puppy development trainers are great for encouraging carers and sharing their knowledge and methods which invariably work!

What is it like having the puppy in your home?

At first, very energetic. Toilet training means keeping an eye on the pup, recognising the habit times and anticipating taking them out so you're up and down, out and in. The toileting guide that's provided is a big help if you haven't had much experience with a puppy or it's been a while. Much like having a toddler, you have to look for safety issues and the best thing is to remove those kind of things - again the advice from Seeing Eye Dogs is very helpful.

How do you incorporate the pup into your social life?

I try to incorporate all the pups into my life, so they very much become part my social activities.

All my close friends have welcomed the pups into their homes (very useful if they have a cat or another dog), the pups have all come along to Reformer bed classes (I take a bed with me for them to rest on), tennis (I take an old picnic mat as a bed), where skills are reinforced such as ignoring bouncing balls, being left at the side of the court with brief check in by me between sets, and golf - walking on grass and not sniffing, having to stop, wait, sit, stay whilst you're in a bunker or on the green putting (sometimes a fair distance away) and especially learn not to wander for a sniff as they are tethered to the buggy.

We also go to see NRL team Storm when they are at home, and AFL at the MCG, including other outdoor events like farmers' markets (always a tough one as there are lots of other dogs usually, never mind the food smells), and to the cinema and theatre as well.

What is it like to have a puppy in the workplace?

I work from home on my own business, so a lot of my time is in front of a computer or answering calls - especially at this time of year as my customers are schools and the education sector. I also have to pack our sales, and our packing room is our garage, so the pups soon learn to settle in the office, and while tethered in the garage with me. I usually have the garage door up, put a couple of old beds down, give a couple of toys or a kong chew toy to the puppy. They sit and watch the world go by.

How hard will it be to give the pup back? It is the hardest time, and it doesn't get any easier each time you take on another pup!

When I'm asked this question by people, I'm honest and say it's hard, but you won't know how you will cope until you actually have to do it and we need people to take on this role as a carer.

My husband said I was crying my eyes out when our first pup Lenny went IFT (In For Training). "Look it's just like bringing your kids up, they become adults and they leave home for work or Uni. You've done the job you needed to do"

Maybe this is harsh, but true.

Would you become a puppy carer again?

Now in my 10th year, I guess I'm a serial carer now and yes, I hope to continue for a few more years with a new pup every year. From a selfish point of view, it is rewarding, bringing a pup up in the hope that it will change someone's life, and I enjoy the Seeing Eye Dogs community and believe in the work of the organisation.

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