"I was eight years old and I wanted a puppy," Eve Dietrich said, explaining how her family first got involved in the Seeing Eye program.

Actually, it wasn't all that easy, since her mom, Barb, did not want a dog.

Eve and her younger sister, Dawn, began scheming to plan the best way to break down their mother's defenses.

They decided to appeal to their mother's sense of altruism.

The Dietrichs are involved in charitable work through their church, Zion's Lutheran in Shoemakersville, and Girl Scouts, and they enjoy just finding ways to help others.

"My family taught me to help people," Eve said, explaining that when she saw an article in a newspaper describing the 4-H Seeing Eye program, she knew she had a way to get her puppy.

Seeing Eye, Inc. of Morristown, N.J., is an organization that works to help the visually impaired become more independent through the use of specially-trained dogs.

Most Seeing Eye puppies spend the first 15 to 18 months of their lives with a volunteer family called "puppy raisers."

Seeing Eye, Inc. paired with 4-H clubs in 1942 to encourage children nine or older to raise the puppies and teach them basic commands.

After a dog leaves the family, it's sent on to four months of additional training at Seeing Eye, Inc. then is matched with an owner.

Barb wasn't easily swayed.

The family enjoys camping, and Barb thought a dog would hamper their outings.

But undeterred, Eve encountered a park ranger on a family trip, and asked him if they'd be able to bring their Seeing Eye puppy with them, and she was given the okay.

But Barb still wasn't ready to say yes.

"I was concerned because you get attached," she said.

But Eve and Dawn had done their research.

"All I kept thinking is, you're helping someone, giving them independence," Eve said.

Finally convinced, Barb agreed.

Their first puppy, Eddie, a black Labrador Retriever arrived two weeks before Christmas several years ago.

"It was exciting," Eve recalled. "He came with a bow and stocking."

An important part of the puppy's training is socialization, so the Dietrichs, including dad, Dennis, take the dog everywhere they go.

"Most of the stores in Hamburg know us," Barb said. "If we go to get a haircut, the dog's there."

Fellow church members have gotten so familiar with the sight of a puppy at church, that when the Dietrichs are without a puppy in tow, they're often asked when the next one is arriving.

Although Eve was the catalyst for the puppy-raising venture, the entire family works with the puppy.

"We teach them sit, down, come, rest, stay back, forward, and park time," Dawn said.

The dogs are taught to walk on the left side of a person because most people are right handed.

When it's time to return the dog to Seeing Eye, Inc. the family is filled with mixed emotions.

"It's hard," Dawn said.

"It's easier now, knowing that I most likely will get another dog," Eve added.

Dawn agreed.

"Sometimes it's better when you get a new puppy at the same time," she said.

Now the Dietrichs are raising their sixth puppy, a beautiful Golden Retriever named Cagney.

The program has a success rate between 60 and 70 percent, and some puppies will go on to other work. Eddie became a police dog.

If a dog doesn't work out, the family that raised it is given first chance to adopt.

Two of the puppies raised by the Dietrichs were offered back to them, but so far, they've turned down the offer.

After all, Barb doesn't want to have a dog.

However, her carpet has born the brunt of the family's volunteer work.

"Every year-and-a-half we're going through that puppy stage," Barb said.

Last year, Barb decided to keep track of the family's volunteer hours. Their total came to an impressive 850 hours, which makes them eligible for the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

"Helping people and helping nature, that's just the way we are," Barb said. "You can always find something to volunteer for."

Contact Penny at plhummel@berksmontnews.com.

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