Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a guide dog school, is accepting new puppy raisers in Greater New Milford.

"It has really been an eye-opening experience, especially for our three children," said New Milford resident Charlene Kirkwood, whose family became involved with Guiding Eyes for the Blind after the loss of their beloved Bernese mountain dog.

"The kids were all home when we raised our first pup, Farber. They took turns going to class, walking, feeding and cleaning up after him. We get the joy of raising a puppy and the feeling of success upon their graduation and every step along the way," she said.

Puppy raisers welcome 8-week-old puppies into their homes with full support from the nonprofit, including training classes and free veterinarian care. The volunteers love, nurture and educate the puppies for a 14- to 16-month period before sending them off to their calling as a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person.

Volunteers are invited to attend the graduation ceremony of the dog that they help to raise, which typically commences approximately six months after sending the puppy back to Guiding Eyes for formal training.

It's during the celebration that the raisers have the opportunity to meet the dog's new partner.

"The day Farber graduated we were able to speak at length with the woman he was paired with," Kirkwood said. "At that point it all became real, the challenges she faces on a daily basis and what a great gift she had received in the puppy we raised."

Like 60 percent of Guiding Eyes' puppy raisers, the Kirkwoods are repeat raisers. They currently share their home with a yellow Lab named Ireland, their second pup from Guiding Eyes.

"The kids couldn't wait to start another puppy," said Kirkwood. "As a family, we have gained a lot of joy through raising Guiding Eyes puppies. The experience has taught our kids that we really can make a difference in someone's life."

For those interested in becoming puppy raisers, Guiding Eyes' next orientation series is May 6, 20 and June 3 at the Middlebury Fire Station at 65 Tucker Hill Road in Middlebury.

For details on Guiding Eyes' Puppy Raising Program, or to RSVP to the orientation series, call 866-GEB-LABS or visit www.guidingeyes.org/volunteer/puppy-raising/.