Ledgewood Rowan U Student Plays Mom to Seeing Eye Puppy


Rowan University biology junior Kristin Kabis, of Ledgewood, has been cleaning up after one of her new roommates night and day. Literally.

But that is part of what she signed up for when she agr

Rowan University biology junior Kristin Kabis, of Ledgewood, has been cleaning up after one of her new roommates night and day. Literally.

But that is part of what she signed up for when she agreed to raise a Seeing Eye puppy. Kristin?s puppy is a pleasant black Labrador retriever named Brownie who will live with Kristin for about a year to develop social skills before moving on to the second stage of her Seeing Eye training at the organization?s headquarters in Morristown. N.J.

Under the sponsorship of Rowan Seeing Eye Puppy Club leaders George Brelsford, dean of students, and his wife, Robin, office coordinator for the Center for the Study of Student Life, Rowan agreed this year to become the third university in the country to allow students to raise Seeing Eye puppies.

Kristin was one of four students selected for the project. She and Brownie spend nearly every hour of the day together, including attending classes. Brownie always is required to stay on her leash and mostly sleeps through the more intense classes.

The Seeing Eye?s mission is to enhance the independence, dignity, and self-confidence of blind people through the use of Seeing Eye dogs.

Brownie, another black Lab, a yellow Lab and a German shepherd puppy live with the students and their roommates in neighboring apartments on Rowan?s suburban campus. The dogs are the responsibility of the four puppy raisers 24/7, but their roommates, who had to agree to participate with the primary dog caregivers, serve as surrogate puppy raisers and often puppysit.

Volunteering as a Seeing Eye puppy raiser is not new to Kristin, daughter of Henry and Linda Kabis and a graduate of Morris Hills High School. ?I first volunteered for this project eight years ago because I loved dogs and wanted another, and I thought this would not only allow me to raise a puppy, but I would also be helping improve someone else's life,? she said. Brownie is the ninth puppy her family has had a hand in raising ? families also must approve the primary puppy raisers? involvement ? and Kristin?s seventh.

?This project is important because without the help and dedication of the puppy raisers it would be much harder for the pups to get the exposure they need in order to become good guide dogs,? she said. ?Nothing can describe how proud I felt when I was invited to watch my puppies guide Seeing Eye instructors around the streets of Morristown, New Jersey. It was sometimes hard to believe that the rambunctious little puppy that was in my home a few months earlier was now able to safely and calmly guide someone along an obstacle-filled sidewalk.?

Kristin was more than a little pleased when she learned of the Rowan project. ?I always had the idea in the back of my mind that I would like to raise a puppy at college but never really looked into it,? she said. ?When I saw signs up on campus that Rowan was starting a puppy raising club, I jumped at the opportunity. Living at Rowan will be great exposure for Brownie because she will be around crowds and new situations all of the time.

?The big responsibility for the students is socializing the dogs, getting them out as much as possible,? said Robin Brelsford, whose family is raising its second Seeing Eye puppy. That?s called ?exposure experience,? and it may entail carting the puppies anywhere from Target to the dentist. The puppies also will go home with the students on breaks.

?Obviously it?s a significant commitment,? George Brelsford said. ?The students are spending a year raising these dogs. The community service is an important part of their education process, and it?s what we want our students to be doing. It?s also an opportunity for other students to see how the puppies are raised and learn about the challenges people who are blind face.?

The students, whom The Seeing Eye provides with a stipend to cover dog food and veterinarian bills, meet with the Brelsfords on a regular basis.

At the end of the year, the students will return the puppies to The Seeing Eye. ?The Seeing Eye basically wants us to give back a well-mannered dog, one who is socialized and obedient,? George Brelsford said.

From there, the dogs will participate in an extensive training program under the guidance of experts.

?It?s a very difficult thing to do,? George Brelsford said of being a puppy raiser. ?It?s heart-wrenching giving that dog back.? But the benefits, he indicated, are invaluable: the hope is the Rowan dogs will become service dogs for college students who are blind.

Hard as it might be to give Brownie back, Kristin is enthusiastic about her involvement. ?I want nothing more than for Brownie to excel in all of her training and go on to help one very lucky person,? she said.