Rio Norte students learn about guide dogs and how to raise one
About seven golden and black Labradors waited patiently by their trainers in the multipurpose room at Rio Norte Junior High School — a sight for sore eyes.
These puppies were still, they lounged, and in truth some of them squirmed a bit as they saw about 30 seventh and eighth graders on the floor. One of the puppies, Vista, whose coat was as black as night, looked up and gave the sweetest puppy-eyed look and began to whimper.
But these dogs had a job to do, a serious job — complete their training to become guide dogs, and their visit to Rio Norte was part of that training.
On Tuesday morning, Guide Dogs of America paid a special visit to the Kids Loving Animals Within Shelters, or KLAWS Club, at Rio Norte. Members of the club learned how to raise a guide dog puppy, what it takes to train a guide dog and spoke with Adam Lawrence, who is visually impaired, and his partner Ollie.
“Our club is to help kids become advocates for homeless animals and to expose them and give them the knowledge about the plight of homeless animals,” said Christine Racina, co-advisor of the club and counselor at the school site.
According to Racina, the club teaches students how to advocate for animals and members participate in service-oriented activities such as fundraising and donating proceeds to animal shelters or organizations. This year, the group decided to support Sunny Day Acres.
Animals deserve a loving home and the purpose of KLAWS is to spread that awareness, Racina said, which is the club’s motto: “Together we can make a difference in the lives of all animals.”
“Kids have such a voice, and they have so much power that they don’t always know about,” Racina said. “You can advocate for these dogs that don’t have voices. We try to make sure the kids know that this is something they can do.”
“You can make change, and as a group we’re making a difference,” she added.
Racina loves animals, and she recently connected with a former coworker, who had a connection with Guide Dogs of America. So, through a partnership, Guide Dogs of America came to visit the campus to provide a day of learning for Rio Norte students and to raise awareness about raising a guide dog puppy.
Students rotated around four stations — vision, command, trust walk, and they got an opportunity to speak with Lawrence. Staff with the Guide Dogs of America led three sessions, which simulated vision impairment and provided lessons about guide dog puppy commands and how dogs lead people around.
Shriya Srinivasasubba, eighth grader and president of the KLAWS Club, said she learned a lot about how guide dogs are trained, where they go to “college” to complete their certification and how they serve people who might be visually impaired, autistic or veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She also expressed how much she loves being part of the KLAWS Club. She said the club helps animals through volunteer work and fundraisers — and last year, she said, they read books to dogs and other animals at the Castaic Animal Shelter.
“I like helping animals and I want to be a vet when I grow up,” Srinivasasubba said. “Through the KLAWS Club I can help make a better life for animals by volunteering and donating.”
Subi Lingam, eighth grader and member of the KLAWS Club, said she loved the event. She joined the club because she loves animals, and she gets to work with them.
Lingam said she was happy to learn about guide dogs and how they help different people live their lives — whether it’s veterans, people with disabilities or children with autism. She also encourages other students at Rio Norte to join the club.
“You get to meet other people with the same interests, and you get to have these awesome experiences where you meet these cute little animals,” Lingam said.
Those interested in learning about Guide Dogs of America, or how to raise a guide dog puppy, can visit guidedogsofamerica.org.