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Bow High School graduate continues to volunteer with Guiding Eyes while in college

  • Dillon Hicks with her yellow Labrador Izod, who she socialized from March 2020 until October 17, 2021. Izod was sent back to Guiding Eyes for testing and training. Ben Domaingue—Dillon Hicks

  • Dillon Hicks is shown with her yellow Labrador Izod, who she socialized from March 2020 until Oct. 17. Izod was sent back to Guiding Eyes for testing and training. Courtesy

  • Dillon Hicks with her yellow Labrador Izod, who she socialized from March 2020 until October 17, 2021. Izod was sent back to Guiding Eyes for testing and training. Ben Domaingue—Dillon Hicks

Monitor staff
Published: 10/26/2021 10:26:06 AM

A senior project turned into a passion for Dillon Hicks, who has trained guide dogs since her final year at Bow High School in 2017.

“I’ve loved dogs my entire life,” said Hicks. “Usually people think of guide dogs as always working. They have so much more of a bond than you ever thought.”

Hicks has worked with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing trained service dogs to individuals with vision loss free of charge to recipients.

Guiding Eyes has a multi-step process for training their guide dogs. Volunteers like Hicks will socialize and begin to train the puppies. Once the puppy days are over, the dogs are sent back to Guiding Eyes to be tested, before being formally trained to learn specific commands. After this process is complete, the guide dogs are matched with their partners.

Hicks, who is involved in the first step of the process, has socialized five puppies since 2017.

“It has really inspired me to make a connection with the dog,” said Hicks. “They come to us at about eight weeks old, they live with us 24/7.”

Not all puppies make the cut for Guiding Eyes, however. Some dogs that struggle within the class environment are given different duties than servicing the blind. Apricot, Hicks’ first puppy, was a 55-pound Labrador retriever that struggling with training.

“We did struggle in the class environment, that was a big step for her,” said Hicks. “She was in class for six weeks, but was later released into a different field. Now she’s a police dog with the Connecticut state police.”

Hicks’ fifth and most recent puppy, Izod, lives with her in her apartment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hicks began socializing with Izod on March 20, one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a lot harder to socialize the dogs because no one is going anywhere,” said Hicks.

Puppies become an integral part of a volunteer’s life since they are expected to spend most of their time with their volunteers.

“For my everyday life, it’s nice, he fits into my schedule with the way I work. We do a lot of it together,” Hicks said of Izod. “For some reason if I can’t bring him, he’s really good in the apartment.”

Having to give up five puppies after bonding with them can be emotionally challenging to say goodbye, Hicks said.

“He’s been my best friend since COVID began. I had him all the time, we did so much together,” said Hicks. “It’s really tough for me, but I remember that it’s his job to make an impact for these people.”

Although guide dogs are trained to assist individuals with physical impairments, their emotional impact on their owners cannot be dismissed, Hicks said.

“These dogs have so much fun with their owners, too,” said Hicks.

Despite the difficulty of saying farewell to some of her best friends, Hicks remains steadfast in her commitment to the program and its impact on partners nationwide.

“These dogs really provide so much independence for so many people,” said Hicks. “It gives me this great feeling to give someone that independence.”




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