The Pup Behind the Vest

Jeanny Lavache

Sara Cork is using her love for dogs to give back to her community.

The University of Florida student is the only puppy trainer in Gainesville who works with the Guide Dog Foundation. She manages being a student and a trainer to a puppy named Calvin.

“As a puppy trainer one of my jobs is to socialize Calvin and bring him everywhere with me to expose him to different environments,” said the 4th year psychology major.

Different parts of Calvin’s training include learning a list of commands, being potty trained and traveling with Sara everywhere she goes. Calvin goes everywhere with Sara including classes.

“I usually pack a few snacks and chew toys so that he won’t be disruptive in class,” Sara said.

Although Calvin is a cute puppy, his training restricts him from being pet while he’s wearing his guide dog vest.

“Calvin has to learn the difference between being in vest and being a normal puppy,” Sara said.

There is an extensive application process before becoming a guide dog trainer.

“I had to apply and attend at least two monthly meetings where I socialized with other puppy trainers,” Sara said. “Then I had an in home interview where people from the foundation came to make sure my home was puppy proof.”

According to the Guide Dog Foundation their mission is to improve the quality of life for people who are blind, have low vision or have other special needs.

“The training Calvin is getting now is preparing him to help the person he will later be placed with,” Sara said.

It costs $50,000 to breed, raise and train one assistance dog according to the Guide Dog Foundation website. However, all of the foundation’s services are provided at no charge to individuals. Funding comes from the generosity of individuals, corporations and foundations.

“I decided to become a puppy trainer because I felt like God was telling me I needed to do something that wasn’t about me,” Sara said.

After seeking advice from a couple who were also puppy trainers Sara decided that being a puppy trainer was right for her.

Sara will train Calvin for a year and a half. After she is done training him he will be sent to an academy for further training and finally placed with a disabled person.

For Sara the hardest part about being a puppy trainer is knowing that she will eventually have to give Calvin up.

“I know it will be hard but I know he won’t be gone forever and he’ll be changing someone’s life,” Sara said.