Nemo’s Journey: From Puppy to Guide Dog


Photo by Rachel Walker

Katie Strawbridge, Reporter

Urbana has welcomed many this year, but not all of the newcomers are human. One of the newest Hawks is Nemo, a two year old guide dog who belongs to Senior Rachel Walker. While Nemo has been professionally trained and is allowed to accompany Walker in any public area, getting him in the first place was no easy task.

Walker applied to six guide dog schools, but ended up choosing Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization based in New York. It was at the Canine Development Center in Patterson, NY, where Nemo was born. As a purebred black labrador retriever, he was bred for the most desirable traits for guide dogs, which are, according to the Guiding Eyes website, “being medium sized, healthy, calm, easy to handle, confident and not distracted by other dogs.”

At about eight months old, Nemo was sent to his puppy raiser, who was responsible for socializing him. Guiding Eyes guide dogs remain with their puppy raisers for a period of twelve months minimum. Once Nemo got to be around eighteen months, he arrived at the Headquarters and Training Center in Yorktown Heights, where he was professionally trained for a period of around five months.

Nemo wasn’t the only one who had to go through rigorous training. Walker had to learn how to use a guide dog, which meant she had to stay at the training center for three weeks. During this time, she bonded with Nemo.

Guiding Eyes guide dogs are trained in something Walker refers to as “intelligent disobedience,” which basically means that Nemo is able to decide if a situation is safe or not. For example, if Walker were to cross the street, but a car was approaching, Nemo would stop Walker from crossing into the street and getting hit by the car.

Even though Nemo is a trained guide dog, it is still very important for everyone at Urbana to act appropriately around him. While petting hasn’t been much of a problem, there have been several incidents where students made barking noises at him. While it might seem harmless to some people, this can actually be dangerous. “It’s putting my life in danger,” Walker said. “Especially around turns or staircases.”

When Nemo is not at work, he acts more like a dog. Walker explained how Nemo has two different personalities. “As soon as I get home, the harness comes off and he’s a dog.”