Service Dogs Lead the Way to Hope

By Paige Amstutz
March 14, 2023

It all starts with puppy-raisers.

For more than 70 years, Guide Dogs of America | Tender Loving Canines (GDA | TLC) has succeeded in its mission to “transform lives through partnerships with service dogs.”

Located on a spacious 7.5-acre campus in Los Angeles, Calif., GDA | TLC breeds, raises, and trains service dogs to meet a variety of needs. Their service dogs are life-changing for many, including those who are blind or visually impaired, children with autism, and veterans with PTSD.

From the moment a puppy is born at GDA | TLC’s campus, they are a symbol of hope. Once properly trained, these service dogs help their owner with a wide variety of daily tasks, empowering them to live with greater freedom and ease.

Depending on the owner’s specific needs, a service dog can perform tasks that assist with mobility and daily living skills, and even reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

One fundamental component of GDA | TLC is its puppy-raising program.

“Puppy-raisers” are volunteer foster families that welcome an eight-week-old puppy into their home until the dog is about 18 months old. They pour invaluable hours into training and loving these furry companions. Puppy-raisers prepare the dogs for formal training by teaching them basic obedience and house manners. The school’s canine development department supports its puppy raisers every step of the way. All major costs, such as veterinary appointments and boarding, are covered by GDA | TLC. The program would not be able to impact nearly as many lives without the dedication of its puppy-raisers.

Some individuals may be hesitant to puppy-raise, fearing they will become emotionally attached to the puppy. While the bond puppy-raisers form is a normal part of this amazing journey, it pales in comparison to the result of this indescribably rewarding process.

“It’s really a good feeling,” puppy-raiser Lori Andersen said. “It makes you feel like you’re a part of something great.”

After striving toward a remarkable, common goal alongside the tight-knit GDA | TLC community, many volunteers continue puppy-raising for years to come.

From left to right: puppy-raisers Ceci Sanford, Bob and Pam English, and Natalie Hooper with their pups-in-training

Pam and Bob English are shining examples of what it means to be a puppy-raiser, and they have volunteered at GDA | TLC for more than 35 years. As seasoned puppy-raisers, they love to support, encourage, and share wisdom with those just starting their journey.

One of their favorite memories as puppy-raisers happened just recently: A puppy raised by their family was matched with a long-time friend who is visually impaired.

“It’s a unique experience you’ll never understand until you try it,” Pam said. “The things most worthwhile in life are not always the easiest things to do, but many times they are the most rewarding.”

Max, a veteran service dog, practicing a down-stay cue with his handler

While it is a big commitment, GDA | TLC’s community makes the process achievable and worthwhile.

“It’s not a pet dog. It is a dog that will change someone else’s life,” Holly Sjogren, who has been a consistent puppy-raiser since 2017, said.

“How can you say no to helping a visually impaired person or helping a veteran with PTSD? How can you not allow that dog to change someone’s life?”

A special moment with a special dog

Holly is a teacher at Hope View Elementary and has introduced countless children to GDA | TLC’s life-changing mission by bringing her puppies to work with her every day.

She uses the dog as an incentive for good behavior in the classroom. Children can work toward earning special GDA | TLC prizes for positive behavior, including pencils and stickers. The top prize is a walk with the puppy.

“You should do your best in whatever field you choose,” she teaches her students, “but at the same time, you need to make the world a better place and do good deeds for others.”

Autism service dog recipient Tracy, with her service dog, Timon — a unique bond

Joining GDA’s puppy raiser program means being part of something bigger than yourself. During the year spent with this special puppy, you will train at home, in public, and join group outings with other puppy-raisers. You will have the opportunity to share with those around you the life-changing work that GDA | TLC does for so many, as well as how the program and this puppy have impacted your life.

As puppy-raiser Lori Andersen said, “The pup is a gift back, not only to GDA | TLC but also to someone who will need and love the pup more than we can ever imagine.”

As Guide Dogs of America and Tender Loving Canines continues to grow, so does its need for puppy-raisers. If you are interested in joining the GDA | TLC community and changing lives through puppy-raising, please visit

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