A Jerrabomberra family helping to raise a beautiful Labrador who will hopefully one day become a guide dog, says it has been a wonderful experience, with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT now calling for 10 Canberra families to come forward to raise 10 newborn puppies for the important role.
Sharee and Wayne Hargreaves, who have four children, say puppy Zander has brought nothing but happiness into their lives.
"It's certainly brought the family immense joy to see Zander grow from this little ball of fluff to this quite statuesque dog," Wayne said.
"The kids feed him every morning and every night. Walk him, with us there as well. It very much is an entire family activity to look after Zander".
Sharee agreed: "It's brought us together as a family".
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT will on Friday from noon to 12.30pm host a Zoom meeting to showcase the puppy-raising program, and hopefully entice 10 Canberrans to take on each of the 10 newborn puppies, until they are about one year old.
Guide Dogs mobility instructor Ryan Jones called it "the best volunteer job in the world".
"Despite everything going on in the world, there are a few things that remain the same. Puppies are still entering this world full of life, bringing joy to all those they come across," he said.
I think it's always going to be part of our lives because it's been so rewarding.Sharee Hargreaves
The Hargreaves family - including Charlie, 12, Lily, eight, and five-year-old twins Cooper and Sebastian - have had Zander since last September.
Sharee saw an ad looking for guide dog puppy-raisers and never looked back.
"We have to do half an hour training with him every day and then just general love and care, taking him for a walk and just lots of cuddles and love," she said.
Zander might stay a little longer with the family due to the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown.
They agree it will be tough to say goodbye.
"We're trying not to think about it at this stage," she said.
"We just keep reminding ourselves that he's going off to help somebody, he has a job to do. It's going to break the kids' hearts more than ours, I think."
Sharee said she had a checklist of things to tick off daily for Zander's training and he can't be left alone at home for more than three hours a day.
"So someone either has to be at home or you have to have that flexibility of being able to take him to work, which I'm lucky to be able to do that," she said.
There is also weekly and then fortnightly training, run virtually at the moment, but usually face to face for an hour to 90 minutes.
The family already had an eight-year-old lab, Chester, and Zander fitted in straight away. "They just love each other," Sharee said.
Zander has benefited from having the family at home during the shutdown, and before then Sharee was able to take him into her office at the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council. "Just seeing the difference in having a dog in the office was amazing," she said.
If Zander doesn't become a guide dog, he may be in the breeding program, a therapy dog or a roving ambassador. If none of those work out, the family has first dibs on keeping him. In any case, they intend to do more puppy raising for Guide Dogs.
"I think it's always going to be part of our lives because it's been so rewarding," Sharee said.