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Newsmaker: Kingston family gives back by raising guide dogs for the blind

The Patriot Ledger logo The Patriot Ledger 2/14/2020 By Susannah Sudborough The Patriot Ledger, The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
a man and a dog on a leash: Brian Payne, of Kingston, trains puppies for work as service dogs, with Dory, his current trainee. © Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger/The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass./TNS Brian Payne, of Kingston, trains puppies for work as service dogs, with Dory, his current trainee.

NAMES: Brian, Shandra, Ben and Danny Payne AGES: 43, 47, 10, 8HOMETOWN: Youngstown, New York and Kingston, Massachusetts IN THE NEWS: The Payne family raises guide dogs for the visually impaired for New York-based nonprofit Guiding Eyes for the Blind. NOW YOU KNOW: Brian Payne teaches U.S. history at Bridgewater State University, and Dory, the dog his family is raising, comes to class with him every day as part of her training. THEIR STORY: The Payne family has a mission to do good, but they don't do it by volunteering at a local homeless shelter or food pantry. As a team, they are working together to raise and train Dory, a 10-month-old German shepherd who they hope will one day have a career as a guide dog for the blind.

a dog looking at the camera: Dory is a 10-month-old German shepherd being trained in Kingston as a service dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. © Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger/The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass./TNS Dory is a 10-month-old German shepherd being trained in Kingston as a service dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Dory is the third dog the family has raised for New York-based nonprofit Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which breeds, trains and places Labradors and German shepherds to be guide dogs for the visually impaired.

Creating a guide dog team costs about $50,000 to cover breeding, training for both the dog and the owner, veterinary services and everything else raising a dog entails, according to Guiding Eyes. Families such as the Paynes help organizations like Guiding Eyes provide guide dogs at no cost to the owner. For more than 65 years, Guiding Eyes has put together more than 8,000 guide dog teams.

The Payne family started raising potential guide dogs more than a decade ago when they lived in Norfolk, Virginia. Brian Payne, who is the official dog-raiser for the family, said he saw a neighbor walking a cute black Lab puppy and asked about it. He went to a meeting about training for Guiding Eyes and was soon hooked.

a little boy standing next to a dog: Brian Payne with sons Ben, 10, Danny, 8, and Dory, a 10-month-old German shepherd. The family is raising Dory for and organization called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. © Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger/The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass./TNS Brian Payne with sons Ben, 10, Danny, 8, and Dory, a 10-month-old German shepherd. The family is raising Dory for and organization called Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

A family gets a puppy at about 8 weeks old, after Guiding Eyes has selected those that show good guide dog characteristics. The families keep them for about 15 months, during which Guiding Eyes pays for the dog's veterinary expenses and the family pays for general care, which Brian said is about $65 a month.

Brian said raising a guide dog is both full-time and non-disruptive. While the family is responsible for the dog's welfare and basic commands training just as any pet owner, the main goal is to acclimate the dog to all parts of human life, not just home and family as is the case with any pet. Brian aims to have Dory with him at all times of the day to get her used to a human schedule.

"I take her with me to work most days," he said. "It's really just about integrating them into your daily life. So if you go to work, dog goes to work. You go to the store, try to take the dog with you. The whole idea is to get them integrated into the human environment."

Brian teaches U.S. history at Bridgewater State University. He said Dory sits politely through class, though sometimes she decides to speak up.

"The students love it. She comes with me to class and I always give her a little bit of time to say hello to everybody before," he said. "Every once in a while in the middle of class she starts making a little bit of noise and they think that's pretty funny."

Brian said now that she's been with the family for a few months, Dory is able to go just about anywhere with them. They even arranged with Logan Airport in Boston and the MBTA commuter rail to let her try out travel hubs. He said Dory is somewhat timid, but the family is working on raising her confidence.

"I just like seeing them be successful, overcoming when they're struggling to get through some sort of exercise and then they finally get it and it clicks and they know what you want them to do," he said.

Brian said the family devotes about two hours a day to training, exercising and playing with Dory, a job his sons, Ben and Danny, like to do. Ben and Danny said they enjoy playing tug with Dory. As she's gotten bigger and stronger, Brian said she's become the champion of the game.

But Ben and Danny said their favorite thing is just to cuddle on the floor with Dory, sometimes even reading books to her. "It just feels nice to hang out with her," Ben said.

Brian said the time Dory spends with Ben and Danny is very important, because learning how to behave around children is essential for guide dogs. He said other dog raisers go out of their way to have Ben and Danny spend time with their dogs at Guiding Eyes group training sessions.

Shandra, Brian's wife, said she likes seeing the dogs grow and mature.

"When they first come they're very crazy and it's really nice to see how much they progress in a short time because they usually do settle down pretty quickly," she said.

When Dory has completed her time with the Paynes, she will be assessed to see if she is fit for more specific guide dog training. Brian said only half the dogs make it through to the next stage of training.

Their first dog, a black Lab named Adler, did become a guide dog, and the family is very proud of him.

"That's the most rewarding part — seeing the final reward that the dogs actually get to go out and provide a lot of independence to somebody," Brian said.

Their second black Lab, Rhythm, didn't make it through training, but Brian said she was adopted by a family in California.

The Payne family is very hopeful that Dory will become a guide dog, even though saying goodbye will be the hardest part.

"In the end, you know what you're doing is for this greater good," Brian said. "I want to keep her as a pet, but somebody else needs her to be a service dog. So if she has that potential, we can't stand in the way of that."

For more information about Guiding Eyes to the Blind, visit their website at guidingeyes.org.

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©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

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