Dogged devotion

July 24, 2003 12:00 am
A playful moment is shared between Sharon Pugh and Dorsey, Pugh's fifth guide dog. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).
A playful moment is shared between Sharon Pugh and Dorsey, Pugh's fifth guide dog. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

Six-month-old Dorsey, with a too-big green jacket reading "guide dog puppy" hanging over her already floppy yellow coat, tries so hard to be good, sitting next to the table.

But she has that gleam in her eye; kneel on the floor with her and it's all over.

Suddenly, this lovable Labrador has you in a bear hug, balancing on her hind legs, front paws thrown over your shoulders, licking your ear like it's a snowcone.

She might be in training, but Dorsey's still just a puppy.

Dorsey is one of four guide dog puppies being raised by members of the Sierra Guide Dogs, a foothills group devoted to getting these special pups off on the right paw. The dogs will live here for 14 to 18 months, after which they will return to Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., a nonprofit organization in San Raphael that matches the dogs with blind people who need a seeing partner.

Sharon Pugh of Tuolumne — Dorsey's raiser — and the rest of the Sierra Guide Dog group teach the dogs socialization skills by taking them to work, shopping and on holiday. They frequent the gym, grocery store and coffee houses. Some even board airplanes and jet across the country.

"We're encouraged to try to give them as many experiences as possible," Pugh said. "We've gone to San Francisco, gone to the wharf, traveled to the north part of the state to visit my family."

At the end of 18 months, though, the puppy raisers must return their four-legged shadows.

That, said Sierra Guide Dogs Leader Ellen Brookefield, is the hardest part.

"It's like being a foster parent — you may have two weeks or two years," Brookefield said. "You know when you get them they're not yours to keep, but you bond with them anyway."

Brookefield's Labrador, Destiny, is the Belleview Elementary School music teacher's 10th guide dog.

The streak began in 1994, when Brookefield's daughter, Kathi, was a senior at Sonora High School and took a guide puppy as her 4-H project. Kathi left for Cornell University in the fall of 1995, and Brookefield finished raising Columbus before he returned to San Rafael to complete his training.