CAES Alumna's Dawg Days Helped Create Guide Dog Program at UGA

Sarah Hooper and pup
CAES alumna Sarah Hooper, pictured here at an open house for the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008, helped launch the puppy-raising program at UGA. Photo contributed

It’s nearly impossible to walk on campus today without spotting a yellow-jacketed guide dog in training.

There are between 100 and 120 on the University of Georgia’s Athens campus, and twice that number of puppy raisers, according to Deana Izzo, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind’s Southeastern field representative. The puppy-raising program has spread to Kennesaw State, Emory and Augusta State universities in Georgia, as well as Auburn University and the University of North Carolina.

The program took root at UGA through the work of alumna Sarah Hooper (BSA – Avian Biology, ’10). She began raising guide dogs as a Girl Scout Gold Award project in high school and wanted to continue her work in college.

She dealt with some resistance in the beginning, especially within her on-campus housing accommodations, a requirement for freshmen at the time. Her professors were all receptive to the idea, though. She even took her service-dog-in-training to her labs and to work at the college’s poultry farm.

Now, the program has grown so that there are co-raisers who can split training responsibilities. Campers can take puppies for a week or more and buddies can babysit puppies for a matter of hours so students can attend labs and the like.  

As students approached Hooper and word got out, the program grew. Hooper and Izzo worked together to establish policies and procedures for the puppy-raising program and on recruitment. Eventually, Hooper served as area coordinator.

“We took our puppy-raising program and modified it to fit a college campus,” Izzo said.

Today Hooper has her veterinary medicine degree, also from UGA, and she’s working toward her doctorate at the University of Missouri.

Her experience as both a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences avian biology major and puppy raiser aid her higher education pursuits.

“Much of my Ph.D. is bench-top lab research where I work on developing assays to measure biomarkers,” Hooper said. “We run some assays called ‘ELISAs.’ My research professor asked me how I understood how they worked. It was through my avian bio techniques class.”

Being a puppy raiser teaches ownership and responsibility. Working in the program helps students stand out at interviews and in veterinary school applications. And “working with the other students on campus allowed me to develop lifelong friendships,” Hooper said.

Puppy raisers include students majoring in disciplines throughout the university.

Consider becoming a puppy raiser for the Guide Dog Foundation.

By Kathryn Schiliro