Walk beside Me
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“Walk beside Me,” New Era, Mar. 1986, 8

Walk beside Me

It doesn’t seem like service. It’s just two boys having fun raising dogs.

When the doors to the van were opened, the noise level inside rose considerably. The yapping puppies competed for attention from the two young boys who climbed inside. One boy poked his fingers through the wire mesh of a cage and let the puppy inside lick them, but his eyes kept searching the cages trying to read the name tags on the dogs’ collars.

“Here she is,” he said to his brother behind him. They both turned their attention to a butterball golden retriever puppy.

“Hi, Blanche.” The puppy squirmed with excitement, standing on hind legs with front paws against the side of the cage.

Luke Fausett, 12, bent down to get a better look at the puppy. Scott Fausett, 15, the older of the two brothers, leaned over to see the pup, the fourth one his family would raise as a guide dog, and said, “Her name starts with a B. All the dogs whose names start with B are from the same litter.”

Blanche didn’t care what her name meant, but Luke and Scott knew that she would soon learn to respond to it when she was called. They hoped that she would learn all they could teach her and be smart and goodtempered enough to be accepted into training as a guide dog.

Scott Fausett from Bluebell, Utah, is the president of Utah State Guide Dogs, a 4-H program where young members raise puppies for 12 months in preparation for the dogs’ training as guide dogs. The 12-week-old puppies are provided by a nonprofit organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. The young people love the puppies and care for them, and it is because of this love that the dogs are prepared to love and serve as eyes for a blind person.

“It makes me feel good to do this for some person who isn’t as fortunate as we are,” says Scott.

Scott learned about raising guide dogs at an assembly at school. “The speaker brought three dogs to give a demonstration. I thought it would be neat to raise one. I went home and asked Mom and Dad, and they said they would have to talk about it. Mom went to a guide dog meeting one day, and they decided to let me try it.”

Scott’s mother, Kay, had some reservations. “I was leery at first because it is such a commitment. The dog has to be in the house and sleep right beside the child’s bed at night. But we’ve loved the experience. We take the dog everywhere, to visit Grandma, to family reunions, to the grocery store, or whenever we come to town.”

It is an important part of the dog’s training to become used to lots of different people, situations, noise, and traffic. And in a large, happy family like the Fausett’s, the dogs get used to lots of attention and lots of distractions.

When Scott and Luke raise a puppy, they spend several hours each day feeding and grooming it and teaching it to obey commands. With both boys involved, they trade off responsibilities each week. “We have to teach the puppy its name, and we have to housebreak it,” says Scott. “When the puppy comes to us, it has never had a collar on. We teach it basic obedience like sit, stay, down, heel, come, and fetch. We socialize it and get it used to being with people all the time.

“Then when it is about ten months old, it has to pass a test and be completely housebroken before we take it to school or church or stores,” Scott explains. “When we take the dogs into stores or restaurants, we get permission from the owners first; then we have the dogs wear a jacket that identifies them as guide dogs in training.”

Scott usually takes the dog he is raising to school several times, and regularly takes it to stores. The dog is extremely well behaved and simply lies down beside Scott’s desk during class and stays close to Scott on a leash while in a store.

It’s not always easy to take the dog places when other people don’t understand that it is being trained. “It’s hard,” Scott says. “People laugh at you sometimes. ‘You have a dog in school!’ Some think it’s neat, but the jokers think it’s funny to pull the dog’s tail.” Scott gives his dogs lots of different experiences so the dogs are prepared to handle these types of situations while working as guides.

After a little more than a year, when the dog is approaching 18 months old, the puppy raisers return the dogs to Guide Dogs for the Blind for an additional six months of training. This is both a sad and hopeful time. The dog has become a member of the family, and the puppy raisers are sorry to see it leave home. But now the dogs are ready to be trained for their life’s work. And the family members hope that their dog will pass with flying colors. Only 50 percent of the puppies raised are found suitable to become guide dogs.

The dogs are checked to see that they aren’t too small or too large to be guide dogs. They are checked to see how they react to loud noises and the distractions of children and traffic. And they are checked to be sure they are not too aggressive or too shy.

If a dog is rejected from guide dog training, the family who raised it is allowed first choice to keep it. If the family does not choose to keep the dog, a waiting list is kept by the organization of families hoping for a dog, since dogs rejected from the guide dog program make such nice, well-trained family pets.

Gauntlet, a dog Scott and Luke raised, is presently going through guide dog training. Scott and Luke hope they don’t hear anything from the training center for a while; since a phone call now would only mean there was a problem with his training. Tiger, another dog that Scott raised, was rejected because of physical problems with his front legs. Scott was at the training center in California when he found out that Tiger would not be accepted as a guide dog. “That was a sad time when Tiger didn’t make it,” says Scott. “I had to call the family and tell them.”

Jenny, a golden Lab, the first dog Scott raised, was accepted as a guide dog, has completed her training, and has been matched to a blind owner, Gene. Scott attended Jenny’s graduation from the training center and met Gene. Since then, Scott and Gene have become good friends, occasionally visiting in person but most often communicating by mail or over the telephone.

Getting to know the man who has been directly helped by the family’s efforts in raising a puppy has encouraged Scott and his family to continue raising guide dogs. “One thing that has helped is Gene’s being in touch with Scott and knowing the good that we are doing,” says Kay Fausett. “He and Jenny have really become a part of our family. He is really appreciative, and it helps us to think of that when the time comes to return another dog we have grown to love. We keep reminding ourselves how special this dog will become to a blind person.”

Scott has some advice on how people should act when they meet someone with a guide dog. “If the guide dog is in harness, people shouldn’t bother the dog. It is working. The dogs are very protective of their owners, so you shouldn’t pet the dog unless you ask the owner first. However, most people like to talk about their dogs and are usually pleased to let people pet them.”

Being involved in raising guide dogs has had some profound effects on Scott. Kit Stevens, a past Utah State Guide Dog Chairman, says, “Scott is a tremendous kid. He loves guide dogs, and he is totally devoted. He is inventive, creating new programs. He is organized and does many things on his own.”

Scott’s mother has noticed a change too. “He’s become more independent, more confident, more able to speak to groups. He was quite shy, but now he can go anywhere and speak to anyone and feel comfortable.” His dad, Lewis, adds teasingly, “Sometimes I get perturbed because he is so involved. He’s very dedicated.”

Scott was asked to give a talk in his sacrament meeting in the Bluebell Ward, Altamont Utah Stake. He chose to talk about his involvement in raising guide dogs. He read the scripture, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; … Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:26–27). Scott explained that raising puppies to be guide dogs is a way he can help others. It’s a good cause that takes lots of time and daily devotion. Scott explains, “Kennel dogs won’t make it as guide dogs because the puppies have to be raised with love. We don’t really have to worry about teaching them, but our responsibility is to love and care for them.”

Blanche is playing with her leash and begging to be petted as Scott sits talking about guide dogs. He remembers Jenny, the first puppy he raised. “Gene wrote to me,” says Scott absentmindedly scratching Blanche behind one floppy ear. “He wrote that now he feels secure because of Jenny. He called me on the day he had had Jenny for one year to thank me for raising her and tell me how much he loves her. I like knowing that something I’ve done has helped someone who needs it.”

Color photos by Janet Thomas

Black-and-white photos courtesy Deseret News

Blanche will spend a year with the Fausett family in preparation for eventual training elsewhere as a guide dog for the blind. Scott knows puppies respond best to love and acceptance. Luke exercises another dog (and himself) by jogging down a road close to home. Both boys attend the state 4-H convention for guide dog raisers.

Shopping, school, seminary, even just lounging—anywhere Scott goes the dog may go, too. Not only are they friends, but it’s part of the training. In order to be of service to the blind, a guide dog must be able to remain beside its master during all kinds of activities. In public, dogs in training wear an identifying jacket and permission is always obtained before the dog is brought indoors. At home they relax just like they’re part of the family.

It takes time and patience to prepare them for training, but Scott knows guide dogs are needed and appreciated.