ROSELAND, NJ - This week the Roseland Borough Council Meeting went to the dogs for a short time. Stopping by to see the Council was 16-month-old Fallon, a puppy being raised to hopefully soon be a Seeing Eye Dog.

Fallon was accompanied by his volunteer puppy-raiser, Sharon Kessel of West Orange, who spoke for Fallon and all the volunteers and dogs in the Eyes of Hope Essex County Puppy Raiser Club.

Each Thursday, the multipurpose room of the Borough Hall is filled with the dogs and their puppy-raisers, all under the watchful eye of expert club leaders who review all the dogs. Breeds include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and a Lab/Golden cross. Kessel said she and Fallon went to the council meeting to say thank you.

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“Without the space, we would never be as successful as we are,” said Kessel.

The council visit was especially poignant for Kessel as Fallon will be handed back to The Seeing Eye, based out of Morristown, on March 3. There, Fallon will undergo professional guide-dog training before being placed with a visually impaired person.

Kessel has had Fallon since the puppy was seven weeks old.

“It’s sad, and you cry, and then get another puppy to raise,” said Kessel, when asked if it was hard giving up a dog she’s raised for 15 months.

Kessel said being a puppy-raiser involves investing a lot of time and effort with the dog.

“We nurture and care for them until they are 13-16 months old, teaching them basic manners and commands, how to handle social situations, how to ignore other dogs, take them on trips to get used to new locations, etc.,” she said.

Puppy-raisers who are interested in the program speak with the Seeing Eye staff initially and then the club leader in their area. If invited, the interested individual attends a club meeting to fill out an application to raise a puppy. They are also asked for references, who are contacted before being accepted into the program.

Over the past 22 years, through the Roseland program, 30-40 puppies per year have been raised for the program. Seeing Eye dogs are placed in the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico with visually impaired individuals who qualify. 

When a person gets a dog, a required $150 fee includes transportation for the person to the Seeing Eye, four weeks of stay at the Seeing Eye campus and all the training and equipment needed. Veterans in need of a Seeing Eye dog are charged only $1.

One question Kessel often hears is, “are the dogs adoptable?” if they don’t pass the training program.

“First right of refusal goes to the puppy raiser, then to law enforcement as a police dog if the dog is qualified, and if those both don’t happen, public adoption is available,” said Kessel.  

According to Kessel, there is a two-to-three-year waiting list for dogs that are put up for adoption. Kessel said she and Fallon went to the council to show what the community can do together.

“It is a good thing for a community to open up facilities for those in need. Dogs are a lifesaver,” said Kessel.