Eyewitness News celebrates International Guide Dog Day with guide dog group on Long Island

SMITHTOWN, Long Island (WABC) -- Eyewitness News documented a training session at the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown on Wednesday to celebrate International Guide Dog Day.

The dogs are trained to serve the visually impaired and veterans.

"One of the largest aspects of the role that they'll be filling is providing someone with independence, with comfort, with more safety and more of a normal lifestyle," said Lorin Bruzzese, the program's puppy training manager.

The program relies heavily on volunteer puppy raisers who take the dogs into their homes and train them for the first 12 to 14 months of the dog's life.

"Working for an organization like this, there's such a sense of satisfaction," said William Krol, Communications Manager for the Guide Dog Foundation and America's Vet Dogs.

Volunteer puppy raiser Elizabeth Scarpelli said she wants somebody to live without boundaries.

"The way I can walk out of my house so free, I want somebody to have that same ability," she said.

Ruthann Collins, also a volunteer puppy raiser, echoed that sentiment.

"I've been very blessed in my life and to be able to do something that really is going to change someone's life," she said. "It's just absolutely amazing."

After the dog's train with the volunteers for approximately one year, they are returned to the Guide Dog Foundation for their formal training for three months.

The dog is then matched with a visually impaired resident through the Guide Dog Foundation or with a veteran through America's VetDogs.

"When you give them away it's hard 'cause you cry," Collins said. "But we always say, go over to the nursery and get another one, start again."

Scarpelli agreed that the hardest part of the training is having to give the dog back.

"You fall in love with them," she said. "But as hard as it is, that's as rewarding as it is. When you see the puppy that you raise leading somebody out, it's just a fantastic feeling."

To find out how to volunteer to be a Guide Dog puppy trainer, visit puppy.guidedog.org.
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