With schools being closed everywhere and with social distancing still going on, millions of kids around the world are having too much free time on their hands.
One 14-year-old has found a brilliant way to fill all this time, and her story just makes one wish more people were thinking in the same way.
Gabrielle Macaruso is spending all her spare time with Citron, a small, yellow, puppy that is destined for great things.
Citron – which means lemon in French – is a yellow Labrador Retriever who is on the way to becoming a guide dog for the New York-based nonprofit group Guiding Eyes for the Blind, given that the pup can go through all the training and tests.
Maureen Hollis, the regional manager, stated that only half of the puppies who go through the training actually make it to being guide dogs, while the half that don’t make it are adopted as companion animals by families.
“It’s about 50% of the dogs we put on program. In our organization, we have 450 dogs on program and we are usually placing about 165 a year with graduates [blind or visually impaired people].
Macarus welcomed Citron in her home on the 28th of May, and this is the first the family welcomes a dog in their home.
Because she has never had a dog before, she had to go through a five-hour orientation and she is attending weekly virtual training sessions with Hollis to help her get things right.
Gabrielle has volunteered to raise the puppy for 6 weeks before the dog moves to the next stage of her training.
We had to take a training class about how to train a puppy,I took it in April and it was a Google Meets video call and they took us through all the steps of how to train a puppy to be a guide dogGabrielle said.
Citron’s training currently consists of basic obedience, house manners and house training, and socialization. Macaruso brings the puppy to as many different types of environments as possible so she can be confident in any situation — an essential quality in a guide dog.
“A really important quality is the confidence. Resilience, obviously, is a huge one, so if the dog is in situations that are stressful, just like us, can they come back from a stressful day and go to work the next day?”Hollis said.
Lisa, Gabrielle’s mother, is the assistant director of disability services for students at the University of Rhode Island and a member of the Chariho School Committee.
Lisa is also familiar with the URI Puppy Raisers’ Club, one of whose members is next in line to take over the dog’s training.
“Because these students at the University of Rhode Island formulated a puppy raisers’ club with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, I’ve had exposure to the program from work,”
According to her, the puppy has a very structured training program.
“There’s a protocol for everything for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, so she has a schedule.
She has a cue word that Brie [Gabrielle] has to train her to respond to, because ultimately, the individual who is visually impaired will need the animal to eliminate on a very tight schedule and on command.
And so, part of the work that Brie is doing is teaching her to “get busy,” which is to eliminate on demand, but of course, she’s just a few weeks old. That’s one of the end goals for the summer.”
Gabrielle said that, so far, the training has been going well.
“For the most part, she’s been doing really well. She’s a really smart dog, so she picks it up quickly. We walk her maybe twice a day and then she loves to play outside and roll around in the grass.”
When Citron has completed her training with Gabrielle, she will live with a member of the Puppy Raisers’ Club, where she will receive more advanced training. Gabrielle will still be able to visit Citron, however, because she will be occasionally asked to puppy-sit.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind selects puppies from lines of dogs bred as guide dogs at its Canine Development Center in Patterson, N.Y.
“These dogs, they’re bred to have characteristic traits that make them ideal service animals, and it’s so evident with this puppy. She’s so attentive to Gabrielle.”
She may be just a few weeks old, but Citron has made a big difference to Gabrielle during a stressful and uncertain time.
“Citron gives me someone to be with and she also gives me something to do all day, because school is very easy now that it’s virtual learning.
She’s a project that I can work on and that will reward me … I miss school and I miss my friends, and raising this puppy while also helping the organization also provides me with some companionship and purpose.”
She also said that there now is a really strong bond between the two of them, and the love clearly shows.
Gabrielle knows that saying good bye is not going to be easy, but she knows the dog is needed.
It will be difficult to give Citron up, but I know she’s going to go on to do important work,
Do you want to help? Guiding Eyes for the Blind can be reached at www.guidingeyes.org or 845-490-0143.