Raising a puppy with a greater purpose

| June 30, 2022 | 0 Comments

TRAINER AND TRAINEE. Alysoun Higgins has been responsible for Oslo since he was 8 weeks old.

Larchmont Boulevard is no stranger to guide-dog-in-training Oslo and his puppy raiser Alysoun Higgins. Bus drivers and baristas alike recognize him as one of their many regulars. It is routine for Higgins and Oslo to walk from home to Larchmont to do some errands, sit at Groundworks Coffee and then take the bus back home to Ridgewood-Wilton for extra training.

A day full of errands is one of the best forms of training for the 9-month-old Labrador-golden retriever mix, says Higgins.

Oslo is the third dog Higgins has raised for Guide Dogs for America (GDA), which recently merged with Tender Loving Canines (TLC), a service dog organization. A guide dog is a dog that is meant to help people with visual impairments, while a service dog can be any dog in the workforce assigned to veterans with PTSD, children with autism or even for work in courthouses. When taking in a puppy for this newly merged organization, the puppy raisers don’t know what kind of service their dog will provide until they turn them in for formal training.

Higgins was first introduced to GDA through a neighbor, Ann Benya. (See December 2009 Larchmont Chronicle, Section One, Page 31.)

“She only had German shepherds, and I love German shepherds, so I would always notice them around the neighborhood. But it wasn’t until my middle daughter Mary expressed interest that I knew we could actually start training some puppies,” said Higgins.

Before Oslo, Higgins raised a black Lab named Newt, who currently works as a guide dog in Idaho. After Newt, she took in Zuri, a German shepherd, who has completed her formal training and is waiting for her placement.

More than raising

But Higgins does more for the organization than just take in puppies. As the Area Leader for the Westside of Los Angeles, she is in charge of managing monthly meetings, conducting visits for prospective puppy homes, planning outings for the organization and serving as support for the puppy-raising community.

Sometimes caring for and training a puppy can be very frustrating, especially when it is very young. Higgins points out that the hardest part for her is always the beginning.

“Training Oslo is incorporated into every second of my day. He needs to always be behaving and working on the skills he needs. It’s like raising a child, in a way. Even when they are taking a nap, they are still being raised,” said Higgins.

The outcome most definitely outweighs the hard work that goes into raising a service dog. Higgins describes her job as raising them to be good dogs, while the organization trains them to be service dogs.

Formal training

“I turn them in for their formal training after raising them for a little over a year. This is always the most difficult, emotional day,” said Higgins. “I always have to remind myself that these dogs have a greater purpose than just being pets. Once their formal training is done, they get assigned to their person or workplace.”

Before the dog graduates, Higgins will be able to meet the dog’s newly assigned owners. She recalls that it’s the most rewarding part of the process.

“Newt was trained as a guide dog, so he was assigned to someone with visual impairments. His new owner told me all about how much he was going to change her life and how much he would be loved. I can honestly say I was able to tell that she will love Newt in ways that I could not,” said Higgins. “He is so much more than a pet to her. Newt is independence and confidence and is truly life-changing. After meeting her and sending Newt off, I felt like I helped to truly change someone’s life,” said Higgins.

Higgins still gets updates about the lives of the dogs that she has previously raised and is so incredibly proud of them. Meanwhile, she continues to enjoy her time with Oslo and appreciates how mellow he is.

By Cerys Davies

Cerys Davies is a junior at Loyola Marymount University. She has lived in Los Angeles her whole life and is excited to be a part of the Larchmont community.

Tags: , ,

Category: People

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *