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And they call it puppy love

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For those who find the idea of looking after a puppy a bit daunting, the efforts of veteran seeing eye dog puppy raiser Jeni Conquest will seem heroic. Over the past 17 years, Jeni has cared for 15 puppies for Vision Australia; from the ages of eight weeks to around 14 months old.

The joy of puppies

‘I hadn’t had anything to do with dogs before, so this was quite a learning curve for me, but it has been amazing. I’ve had 15 dogs and each one of them is so different, it’s just such a joy to get to know them. They are so intelligent, when they come to you they are only eight-weeks old and they are like a tiny sponge, soaking everything up, quick to learn and happily settle into your life. I feel like something is missing if I don’t have a dog with me.’

Jeni had retired and was looking for a new interest when she heard about the Vision Australia puppy carer program.

‘One Sunday night I saw a special interest segment on the news about puppy caring of Seeing Eye Dogs and thought that would be a nice thing to do. Luckily it was followed up by an article in our local newspaper a few days later and I immediately phoned for an application form and was then visited by my future Puppy Development Trainer. Within four weeks, a little black female Labrador called Oriana came to stay for the first year of her life.’

Getting into the community

The program has proved to be a great way for Jeni to become more engaged in the community – puppy carers are only allowed to leave the pup alone for no more than three hours a day, so they need to incorporate the dog into their daily activities. The puppies, wearing coats that make it clear they are trainee seeing eye dogs, are allowed to go to restaurants, movies, and other places where dogs are normally off limits.

Invariably, having a cute pup by her side prompts lots of interest.

‘It’s been a wonderful experience over the years; I’ve gained new skills and made lifelong friends. Every couple of months Paw Pals, a committee run by and for puppy carers, runs events where there will be 30 or more puppy carers. We’ll do some training, have a barbecue and then take them for a walk.

‘There’s a real sense of family, we have our own private Facebook page for puppy carers where people post photos and experiences.’

Jeni says her initial lack of knowledge about dogs was easily overcome. ‘There is so much support, instruction and regular visits from our puppy development trainers and advice and reassurance is just a phone call away.’

This year, Jeni has been a breeder carer, looking after her first golden retriever Suki, who has just had puppies. Whilst Jeni gets to keep Suki for the long term, she will also care for one of Suki’s litter.

Making a difference

‘Knowing the difference they make to the lives of people who are blind or have low vision is very rewarding. My fourth dog, Zorro, went to a woman in Darwin and we stayed in touch for many years. She used to take Zorro to schools to read stories in braille to children and the kids loved it,’ Jeni says.

‘The thing that most people say about puppy raising is that they couldn’t do it because they wouldn’t be able to give the dog up but, for me, I know that the dog is going to have an interesting and useful life. They aren’t going to be stuck in a backyard, they are going to become someone’s trusted companion and enable that person to experience a greater freedom of mobility and a better quality of life.’

  • For more information on how you can get involved call 1800 037 773 or visit the SEDA website.

Reviewed 20 December 2022

Volunteering Victoria

Volunteering Victoria facilitates opportunities for people and organisations to assist members of the Australian community through volunteering.