For 25 Years Hartwick College Students Have Raised & Trained Guide Dogs for the Blind

Serinah Palafox, a senior at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., has hosted and trained Labrador Retriever puppies for the past two years through Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a non-profit organization that provides guide dogs to people with vision loss, at no cost to the person. Palafox is president of the Guiding Eyes club at Hartwick, celebrating its 25th anniversary, this year.

Her third pup, a black Lab named Stitch, arrived on campus in August and lives with Palafox on the first floor of her residence hall. “Being able to raise a puppy who knows nothing of the world and, in what seems like the blink of an eye, is then taking on the world while providing someone with the independence they deserve, is something beyond special,” says Palafox, a public health major from Staten Island, N.Y.

“Puppy raising is a privilege and an honor,” says Palafox, who will graduate from Hartwick in May. 

Alexis Bickel, a junior double-majoring in history/political science, and vice-president of Hartwick’s Guiding Eyes program, says the project is focused on helping the dogs learn. But she notes that the students also typically learn a lot along the way. “Volunteering for this organization has made me realize how much effort goes into training a guide dog,” says Bickel. “And this program is really helping to educate our community…we’ve had fellow students tell us that we’ve helped to teach them things that they never would have thought of.”

The guide puppies are predominantly yellow or black Labrador Retrievers, Palafox notes. She and her fellow students at Hartwick have mostly worked with Labs, and the breed has been the perfect match for campus life.

Palafox became involved in the program through a biology lab partner who was involved in Hartwick’s Guiding Eyes for the Blind program with the regional coordinator who is a former employee of the college. This year the club has more than ten pups, and has 30 Hartwick students involved in the program.

MeKalea Chambliss, the N.Y. regional manager for the Guiding Eyes puppy program, says she enjoys seeing how the program builds collaboration among these students. “Puppy raising and puppy sitting has brought together a group of college students that wouldn’t necessarily have had a lot in common and now have formed friendships and lifelong bonds,” she says. “Raising puppies isn’t easy, but these students show a huge commitment and enthusiasm in socializing, training and spreading awareness of the mission with the pups in their care.”

Hartwick students who work with the dogs often note the program opens other doors and opportunities for new connections, as well. “One of the most important aspects of Guiding Eyes for the Blind is the networking,” says Palafox. “Through social media–especially Instagram–we are able to connect with puppy raisers from different walks of life, and we share the common goal of providing independence to a person by raising these amazing dogs.”

The dog-raiser is the primary person raising the puppy until the time that the dog matriculates to the “In-for-Training” stage, according to Alexis Bickel. She and the other student volunteers note that, while it’s bittersweet to hand the dogs over for the next phase of their training, they take comfort and some pride in knowing they are ready and prepared for it.

A link to a recent video of Serinah with guide-dog Stitch: