A Perfect Family Project

As a mom of 3 kids, I am always on the lookout for a good family project that will teach the kids something and also bring us closer together.

A Perfect Family Project
Photo provided by Nina F. My family at Joey’s Freshman orientation in Florida at the Southeastern Guide Dog Facility

We renovated the basement (I don’t recommend this – it took too long), collected trash as a volunteer opportunity, and trained for a 5k.

But our favorite by far and the most rewarding was TRAINING A GUIDE DOG PUPPY IN TRAINING!

You might think this is too much responsibility because the puppy needs to be trained well to assist a blind person one day, but the organization we worked with had it figured out.

Here is how: 

  • Before you get your puppy you have to attend three local meetings to meet the team and puppies that are already in the group.

    A group of people holding dogs
    Our Atlanta Puppy Raiser group in 2019
  • After that is a house visit. This isn’t to check how clean or organized you are but to talk about any danger that could harm the puppy. Including pool areas or unfenced yards.
  • Once the home visit is complete, you go over the contract details and the responsible person signs the Puppy Raiser Contract. In our case, it was my 16-year-old daughter.
  • Then you have to wait until the puppy is ready to join your family…

That’s when the real project starts. After the first day’s excitement the daily routine kicks in. Usually, the puppy stays with the raisers for 12 to 18 months.

And here is what we learned as a PUPPY RAISING FAMILY:

  • Routine: the more often you take out the young puppy the less he does his business in the house and the less you have to clean it up.
  • Teamwork: If divided by 5 the work was bearable. Of course, I had to shoulder a big amount of work while the kids were in school, my daughters would wake up early to feed and walk the dog before the bus arrived. And when one was sick, the other would take over. On the weekends the adults were mostly off the hook.
  • Responsibility: Every other Saturday at 10 a.m. sharp we had to attend a raiser meeting where we were taught how to train the dog and how to avoid certain behaviors. Sleeping in was not an option but the community was great and we made lifelong friends.
  • Training starts early and needs to be consistent: The day the puppy comes in the house the training period starts. And it never stops. Just like with kids you never stop being a role model.golden lab being trained outside Ollie started his training on his first day in our house.
  • Sharing: There were times when both of my girls had planned to take the dog to meet friends or to go on a run…at the same time. So one had to step back or they would have to go together. There was a lot of fighting over the dog!
  • Grieving: About 2-3 months before the journey ends we get an email with a date when the puppy is going IFT (In For Training). The closer the date got the more we would talk about raising a new puppy or all the “ifs” when the puppy gets sorted out before the end of the training. When the day comes and you are in Florida/Palmetto to give up your beloved companion it is sad and almost everyone cries. The good thing is, the facility is very well-prepped with tissues, hugs, and distractions. They offer tours, learning more about the organization, and of course a souvenir shop. Giving up our first puppy was the hardest. We were all crying and hugging. But they remind you, that you are doing this for a great cause.
    Southeasetern Guide Dogs June 2022_Jun 18 2022_0220
    Southeasetern Guide Dogs
    Southeasetern Guide Dogs

For our family, this was a great project and we learned a lot. We have trained three more puppies after the first one (Ollie) and my daughters continue to raise puppies now in college.

Southeastern Guide Dogs was always a reliable partner and we loved volunteering for them because as a group we had so many interesting outings (Braves stadium tour, Savannah conference, Georgia Tech tour…) and the Florida facility is one of-a kind.

We have finished this project multiple times, and I would encourage families to dive into this family project. It builds character for all members and uncovers an unknown potential. And it almost always looks great on college applications.

Greg being a guide dog
Black lab being trained by a girl
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Nina Ferentinos
Five years ago Nina moved from Toronto to the great state of Georgia with her husband, her two daughters, and son. They found a beautiful house and supportive community in Sandy Springs and have been residents since. Nina is originally from Germany, specifically Wolfsburg, which is the town where the Volkswagen factory has its Headquarters. All her relatives still live in Germany and she visits them often. Her European accent is hard to hide but also makes her memorable. In 2020 Nina created her own Photography Business (IG: @NinaFerentinosPhotography) which specializes in Family, Newborn, and Branding photography. Her goal is to create beautiful images for families to remember and help business owners to elevate their brand. When Nina is not working on her business or spending time with her family, she enjoys cooking, reading, crafting, and sometimes a bit of gardening. Traveling around the world and learning about new cultures has always been a great pleasure for Nina’s family. She and her husband believe that exploring new places broadens everyone’s horizon.