In the summer of 2013, the Magnani family had a cat, rabbit, cockatiel and horse. However, the kin would expand after Kira Magnani, 15, stumbled upon a pamphlet for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that provides the visually impaired with service dogs. Intrigued, the tenth grader discovered the program was opening a new chapter within Ulster County and was accepting volunteers for its puppy-raising program.
The family agreed to attend an information session at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in New Paltz where they learned more about Guiding Eyes’ history and its impact on the blind community. Moved, the Magnanis decided to apply for the program and were one of four families accepted.
“We’ve never had a dog, so this was very new to us,” said Diane Magnani, Kira’s mother. “The other three families were placed with dogs before us, so it was really hard for us to wait.”
Their patience paid off. A few weeks later, the family was matched with Cabot, a playful black Lab who had just turned eight weeks old.
For 16 months, Cabot will remain part of the Magnani clan as he gears up to enter harness training. As puppy raisers, the Magnanis are responsible for teaching Cabot house manners, good behavior and socialization, as well as attending weekly training classes.
“Puppies learn basic obedience and specific things to guide work,” said Ulster County regional manager Maria Dunne. “They’re taught how to walk on a loose leash, check in on a companion and how to settle and be patient.”
Each week, the puppy raisers receive homework specific to their dog. In addition to teaching Cabot basic obedience skills, the Magnanis are trying to get him used to wearing a bandanna or scarf in preparation for his Guiding Eyes vest.
The family is also teaching Cabot how to settle, which Diane describes as the “hardest part” of his training.
“It’s a commitment,” said Diane. “Puppies need exercise and they’re not allowed on the furniture, which is what we’re dealing with now. We need to be on Cabot at all times and redirect him if we know where he’s going.”
Since his arrival, Cabot has added a burst of life into his new home. However, his training remains a timely responsibility.
Cabot’s daily walks are especially trying. While exposed to the outside world, puppies must accustom themselves to daily distractions, a feat that requires a trainer’s patience.
“Walks are not for him,” said Diane. “It can take 20 minutes to walk two houses because he gets distracted. He’s still too young to go into town and visit stores, but I’ll take him to Water Street Market to walk.”