By John Lamb
Unleashed! reporter@large

For those of you who think guide dogs grow on trees, allow us to make a suggestion for your next book purchase — Bright Eyes, by San Diego County residents Sally Montrucchio and Ron Shaw, is much more than a children’s book about a special dog raised to help a sightless person by a special young girl. It’s a tribute to compassion and neighborliness in an ever-hardening world.

On the surface, Bright Eyes is the simply told, touchingly illustrated story of a charming yellow Labrador guide-dog puppy named Bandit as he develops from an inquisitive, cat-chasing youth into a full-fledged highly trained guide dog under the role-model tutelage of his teenage "puppy raiser" Kendra and his eventual sightless companion, Laura. As a story alone, Bright Eyes serves as a valuable lesson in the responsibilities of pet ownership and civic duty.

But Bright Eyes also delivers a far deeper message — one that can’t be repeated often enough:


Here’s how:

First off, buy the book. Proceeds from Bright Eyes help finance the schools that train these highly demanded service dogs. While only about 10 percent of vision-impaired people use guide dogs, a two-year wait for recipients still exists.

Not only does Bright Eyes take you step-by-step through the evolution of a guide dog, this book also treats the reader to some excellent pointers on raising any puppy. In the back, it also lists guide-dogs schools in the United States and Canada where prospective puppy raisers may sign up — or at least contribute.

Shaw, who with his wife began raising guide dog puppies in 1988 and is now training his ninth dog for Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar, CA, says he would like to see more children have the opportunity to reap the rewards of helping someone less fortunate than themselves.

"Everybody wins," Shaw explains. "Through raising these puppies, kids see what kind of long-lasting impact they can have on someone else’s life. The recipient receives a round-the-clock companion, and the dog is assured of a good home. We were in our 40s when we learned about this program. "

Montrucchio, who after researching service-dogs organizations for the book found herself raising Pacific, an adorable yellow Labrador retreiver for Canine Companions for Independence of Oceanside, CA, couldn’t agree more.

"You can’t even begin the imagine the difference these service dogs make in people’s lives," Montrucchio says. When people ask her how she’ll be able to part with Pacific after 16 months when he moves on to his companion in need, Montrucchio admits she will miss him but remembers what another puppy raiser once told her:

"The real act of love is giving the dog to someone who needs it."


copyright 2006 Unleashed!