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It’s something Kings Park High School teacher Amy Tiu has experienced over and over – and over – again. Not because she keeps going through that teenage-wonder craze of first love, but because she’s in love with actual puppies.
She’s on her 13th one.
Tiu is a longtime volunteer who works as a puppy raiser for the Guide Dog Foundation, which pairs trained dogs with blind and visually impaired people. Tiu’s job is to raise the puppy for about 14-16 months before the animal gets handed over to a trainer.
Her first puppy was a black lab named Lady.
“I cried like a baby when I handed the first dog back,” she admits.
Her present pup in her parade of pooches is Rudy T, and the young female comes to class daily just as Tiu’s other puppies have. It’s all part of exposing the puppy to as many situations as possible. Rudy T is a big hug of yellow with soulful brown eyes.
“The kids get a dog the whole school year,” she said. “It teaches them guide dog etiquette. When she’s wearing her yellow vest, they know not to engage her or touch her. The vest means it’s time to be serious.”
The canines she cares for have included Labrador retrievers, white standard poodles and one golden retriever. She interacts with many other dogs as volunteer area coordinator who conducts classes for fellow puppy raisers.
While many teachers might have blackboard chalk in their pockets, Tiu has kibble.
“Puppy raisers have a kibble pouch on them at all times. The younger they (the pups) are, the more often they’re rewarded. Kibble keeps the dog focused on the handler,” she said.
Each puppy raiser is assigned a puppy adviser to help them through the process.
Tiu is grateful that former superintendent Mary DeRose allowed her to make that first dog a part of life at school. Now the dogs are part of the fabric of Kings Park.
“Our high school has raised a large sum of money for Guide Dog,” said Tiu, who is a member of the Kings Park Classroom Teachers Association. “If you raise enough, you get to name a dog.” The students have been able to name Kingsley and Parker – both in honor of the school itself. Parker, a golden retriever female, had good enough eyes, hips and resilient personality that she became a breeder for Guide Dog.
And then there was Thomy, who was Tiu’s 11th Guide Dog pup. The National Honor Society, which she advises, raised money to sponsor him. The dog was named for two teachers who had passed away: Tom Nally Sr. and Coach Pete Thompson.
“As I walked the halls with him every day, it was great way to honor the two teachers,” Tiu said. “Thomy went on to be placed in the Chicago area with a man who was so excited to be able to take him to some Cubs games. “
A big fund-raiser at Kings Park is the spring Superthon, where kids come to school one night for a battle of the bands, dancing, food and games. The money they raise goes to different charities. Spare change for Guide Dog is also collected in a jar in the cafeteria.
The Guide Dog Foundation was formed after World War II. Tiu joined the ranks in 2005 at a time when she was wondering how she could leave her mark in her community. She was inspired by a colleague with a visual impairment who has a guide dog and works as a teacher.
Tiu, who is married to Ken Tiu, a high school teacher with the Southold Faculty Association, says the puppies are their family. “The dogs have become my children,” she said.
As a volunteer, she pays for food to raise the puppy, although veterinarian visits are paid for by Guide Dog.
The Tius have bonded with some of the Guide Dog owners who have been matched with one of the puppies that were raised in their home. One couple has spent a weekend at their house, and they’ve been to see them in New York City.
Two of their puppies who went on to be trained did not make it as guide dogs, and the Tius were offered the chance to own them. They opened the front door again to Lark and Willie, both golden and lab mixes.
A big day on their calendar each year is Celebration Sunday, when they get to meet a person who is now the grateful owner of a Guide Dog who Tiu raised as a puppy.
“You get to see the dog again,” Tiu said. “It’s similar to the milestones you have with kids.”
For more information, visit guidedog.org.