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Alumna raises dogs to guide the blind

Laura Wilczek | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Notre Dame law student Shanin Leeming’s love for animals led her to a perfect – if not unique – job. She trains dogs for the blind.

Leeming has raised future guide dogs since the age of 12, seeing it as a fun mix of caring for an animal and serving the community.

Her job consists of caring for a seven to eight-week-old puppy and training it to be a guide dog, which includes, “housebreaking, socialization, house manners and basic commands,” Leeming said.

Out of all the tasks, Leeming stressed socialization as the most important.

“A guide dog has to be comfortable in any place that a blind person would want to go. That is why I have to take them to class, on buses, boats, grocery stores and any other place I can think of,” she said.

Leeming said she had been anticipating continuing her work with guide dogs as a sophomore at Notre Dame, and even garnered the support of her rector. Dorm rules, however, stood in the way, and the Office of Residence Life and Housing denied her request to raise a dog on campus on the grounds that dorm life, “would not be fair for the dog,” Leeming said.

The University states in duLac that animals are explicitly prohibited in dorms. The University’s policy frustrated Leeming because “it did not make sense that a rector could have a dog for a pet, but that a service animal in training would not be allowed,” she said. Leeming said she wishes the University would reconsider its policy on animals in this unique case.

“[I] think it would be wonderful if Notre Dame decided to support the raising of guide dogs,” she said.

Leeming also pointed out that she has “heard of schools who are very supportive and who have multiple people raising dogs on their campus.”

Due to the lack of support, Leeming stopped raising guide dogs for the next three years while she lived on campus. After graduation, however, she resumed her training and is currently caring for her 11th puppy – a black lab named Skipper.

She and her husband Judah continue to work with an organization called Pets Connect, which according to Leeming, “pulls animals from shelters and puts them into foster homes until they can be adopted.” The organization focus particularly on animals in danger of being put down. At the moment, Shanin Leeming and her husband are currently fostering a number of pets and take them to adoption events every weekend at PetSmart.

The couple became so personally involved with their work that when they got married in May on Notre Dame’s campus, Leeming’s fifth guide dog, Muffin, and his owner were the ring bearers in their wedding.

For Leeming, the rewarding nature of her work is what keeps her going. Attending “graduation and seeing the dogs being given to their new owners is the best experience of the entire training,” she said.

Leeming encourages those students who would like to get involved with raising guide dogs and who are currently living off-campus to visit the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind Web site.