Subaru wears a headcollar, which his
trainer Spencer Lang uses to teach
control and to direct the dog’s focus
“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – cartoonist Charles Schulz, 1962
It’s a sentiment realized every day for Spencer Lang, an eighth-grader from northern Nevada. Spencer’s classmates at Sage Ridge School rarely see him alone. Whether in class or at his locker, a loving black Labrador retriever is by his side – the adorable Lab, Subaru.
Subaru is more than just a pet; he’s a guide dog puppy in training with a much loftier goal than playing fetch, hunting, or lying on a couch somewhere. One day, if all goes right, Subaru will be the eyes to the world for a person who is blind.
“I learned about puppy raising from a colleague whose daughter was doing it. I thought, ‘Wow, my son would love to do that,’” recalled Risa Lang. “So we reached out to Guide Dogs for the Blind and never looked back.”
The Langs – dad Steve, mom Risa, Spencer, and 11-year-old sister Mikaela – became volunteer puppy raisers for the California-based organization. They started puppy sitting for other raisers in the area before deciding they were ready for the full-time commitment. And a full-time commitment it is!
“Because it’s our first time, it’s like having a baby,” admitted Risa. “There is so much responsibility, but thankfully we had great support from other raisers, and everything fell into place.”
With 900 puppies needing raiser homes every year, puppy raisers are a critical part of producing highly trained guide dogs. To support the puppy raisers, Guide Dogs for the Blind offers a comprehensive puppy raising manual, organized training and socialization, as well as staff who offer problem solving for the pups and their raisers. The cost of training and veterinary care is completely covered by Guide Dogs for the Blind. (Also, the organization’s services are free of charge to all who eventually receive the fully trained guide dogs!)
“My role as a puppy raiser is to teach the dog basic obedience and how to behave in public,” said Spencer. “I thought that it would be fun to take him to school, and it would help him stay calm even when surrounded by a lot of activity. When he is at school with me, he walks around wagging his tail and always makes people smile. His whole body moves when he is happy. When we get to class, he always lies down and goes to sleep by my feet.”
Subaru will live with the Langs until he’s about 15 months old, when he will return to San Rafael, California, or Boring, Oregon, for his official guide dog training. He’ll learn to lead a person the quickest, safest route, stopping for and avoiding obstacles. (Learn more about guide dogs or call  295-4050.)
“I’m sure we’ll all be devastated when he leaves; we’re all in love with him,” said Risa. “But we’re committed to the cause to help someone else, and Guide Dogs for the Blind allows us to do that.”
Hopefully, one day, Subaru will be teamed with someone who, like this puppy’s namesake, will be able to keep moving through life and in a partnership that brings happiness for a lifetime.