Behind every guide dog for the blind is a volunteer who spends time raising the puppy and teaching it about its environment.
Labrador or golden retriever puppies from Guide Dogs for the Blind, based out of California and Oregon, are delivered to volunteers in nine Western states, including Utah, when they are 8 to 9 weeks old, and are raised for about a year before being returned for formal training.
If the pups graduate, they become guide dogs for the blind, search-and-rescue dogs or breeders, or they assist people with diabetes or a hearing impairment.
Utah has five Guide Dog for the Blind puppy-raising clubs. The Davis/Weber County club has eight active puppy raisers. The most frequent question asked of them is how they can give up the dog after only a year, said the club's leader, Traci Holmes, of Roy.
"I tell them we definitely get attached, and it's hard to let go, but from day one, I realize it's not my dog. I'm just the foster mom for a little while," she said.
"We are training them for a bigger purpose."
Holmes and her family have been raising dogs for 12 years. Three of the dogs are now working dogs, including one who is a search-and-rescue dog in Oregon.
The club meets several times a month to learn more puppy-training skills.
Holmes said a puppy raiser is in charge of potty training, teaching basic obedience and exposing the animal to a variety of situations. Puppy raisers take their guide dogs with them to grocery stores, school, work, restaurants, shops and on public transportation.
One of the biggest problems with the puppies is that they are often too friendly, said Lynn Jensen, of Brigham City. She has been raising puppies with his family off and on since 1996.
"They want to go up to everyone," Jensen said, "but we have to teach them to focus on the person who is handling them."
The hardest part is saying goodbye to the dogs, Jensen said. "You cannot do it right without getting close to the animal and feeling affection, so there are a lot of tears."
What makes it worthwhile for Jensen and his wife, Maryann, is seeing their dogs on graduation day. After the dogs spends several months in professional training, the puppy raisers are invited back to the Guide Dog for the Blind campuses in California or Oregon to meet with the dogs' new partners.
"It's an emotional time, because you get to see the dog again after four months, but you also get to see the dog more mature than when it left you," Jensen said. "They are more focused, and it makes you happy seeing them working with the person."
One of their graduates was given to a woman who had lost almost all of her vision and had two small children.
"It really means independence for these people, because in the past, they've relied on other people or a cane to get around," Jensen said. "The feeling you get at their graduation, when you see them walking down the hallway with the dog, you know what you've done is worthwhile."
Maryann Jensen said the experience has helped the family learn about serving others. Her kids, who used to help raise the puppies, are now grown, and their children look forward to helping with the dog.
"They understand it's not ours to keep, but it gives them an introduction to serve and think beyond themselves," Maryann Jensen said of the next generation of trainers.
"It's a tremendous project for our grandchildren, because they learn to love it like we do, and (they) have the same emotions of excitement and sadness, so it also gets them used to the idea that saying goodbye is a part of life."
Crystal Larsen, 13, of Syracuse, turned to raising puppies for the blind because she loves puppies. She started with her first puppy at age 11 with her parents' help and is now raising her third puppy.
"It came with everything -- I get a puppy, and I get to help people," Crystal said.