CAPE MAY – Dogs on the ferry, dogs on the bus, dogs on MAC’s trolley tour looking at historic houses, even dogs at the Ugly Mug.
All the pooches missed in Cape May were the fudge stores and they would have shopped there given the chance.
Has this city gone to the dogs? It did Sat., Oct 8 when members of Guiding Paws of Delaware and New Jersey took future Seeing Eye Dogs for a training trip on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry from Lewes, Del. as foot passengers, a bus ride to Washington Street Mall and on a Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts trolley for an historic district tour.
Guiding Paws volunteers act as foster parents 12-16 months for puppies destined to become Seeing Eye Dogs.
Guiding Paws of Delaware Director Martha Irion, who arrived with her German Shepherd in training also named Martha, said the club gets the puppies when they are seven weeks old.
Her puppy bearing the same first name as its owner is a coincidence since Seeing Eye names the dogs, she said.
After 12-16 months, the dogs then go to Seeing Eye Dogs in Morristown for evaluation and additional training if they are deemed suitable.
“We provide a home life for them and teach them how to live with a family,” said Irion.
Volunteers are reimbursed for food and veterinary bills. The dogs are exposed to as many outside activities as possible so they experience being on a train, in a bus, visiting ballgames and malls, anywhere a blind person may take them in the future, she said.
“So when they go back to the Seeing Eye and they hear a train whistle or a car riding by them they are not freaked out, they are like ‘Did that before,’” said Irion.
Guiding Paws volunteers are “puppy raisers,” and not formal trainers which is handled at the Seeing Eye headquarters.
Potential Guiding Paws volunteers fill out an application to Seeing Eye and attend one puppy club meeting and one activity per month, said Irion.
The minimum age to volunteer is 9 years old.
The hard part of being a Guiding Paws volunteer is giving up a dog that has lived in your homes for more than a year.
“She is my 18th puppy and I cry when they all go back,” said Irion.
Another dog is in her future that could either be a seven week old puppy or an F.O.P.(Family Out of Program) where a family can’t complete raising a young dog and it goes to another volunteer.
A total of 27 volunteers and 13 puppies made the trip to Cape May, some coming from Delaware, others by car from Chester County, Pa., Ocean and Cumberland counties.
Irion said the volunteers love taking the puppies on daytrips and the dogs receive lots of attention from the public. The dogs wear a green vest identifying them as Guiding Paws.
Guiding Paws breeds include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retriever-Lab mixes referred to a “crosses,” she said.