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Bonnie Kelly, 81

Her passion is ‘dogs, dogs, dogs and dogs’

By Melody Burri

Bonnie Kelly has lived in East Bloomfield for the last 40 years and has three grown children, three step-children, many grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. She spent her career employed by Stryker, a medical equipment manufacturer and distributor and worked in retirement for Kennedy Funeral home and Granger Museum and Carriage House. She said her passion continues to be “dogs, dogs, dogs and dogs.”

Q: You’ve been raising puppies to become guide dogs for nearly 20 years now. What made you want to start?

A: My mother always told me I should do things for the greater good. Raising dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind seems to fit that bill. I met a woman who was a guide dog user while raising my first and she became my cheerleader to keep doing it.

Q: Over the last two decades, how many dogs have you welcomed into your home?

A: I have fully raised 15 labradors and German shepherds up to the ages of 14 to 18 months: Jake, Milton, Yuri, Nick, Hadley, Pride, Joy, Klinger, Rash, Cotton, Luna, Cora, Hydus, Whitney and Fiddle. I also started six dogs for someone else to finish: Susie, Tina, Dondie, Tarot, Sweeney and King. Seven of them are yellow labradors and 14 are German shepherds. Seven of the German shepherds are puppies, grand-puppies and great-grand-puppies of Klinger. This year I’ve changed to being a starter and have started six puppies up to the age of 5 months. I then hand them off for someone else to finish raising.

Q: What’s involved in dog raising?

A: The most important habits we have to teach are good house manners such as house breaking, crate training, staying off furniture and no counter surfing. We then socialize them so they are comfortable in all kinds of situations. We try to take them anywhere we go — doctor appointments, the theater, shopping, exercise classes, etc. We also have a list of 15 commands we teach them before they leave and they learn 50 commands when they get into training.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of “fostering” a series of future guide dogs?

A: Raising all of these puppies has been very rewarding to me. I retired from work early because of rheumatoid arthritis, but these dogs get me out walking two miles every day and going to events and places that I might not have gone otherwise. The puppy raising regions of dog trainers I belong to are full of fun people who love dogs. What a fun group to be part of, to go places with and share biweekly classes.

Q: Do you get to stay in touch with your puppies after they move on?

A: Guiding Eyes for the Blind has graduations for these pups every month and we are invited. We meet the team of handlers and dogs and I’ve stayed in contact with them often for almost 20 years. I continue to enjoy all these new friends I have made.

Q: How long do you expect to continue raising dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind?

A: As I mentioned earlier, I have slowed down by becoming a starter. This means the puppies don’t reach the teenage stage where maybe I would get pulled down. I hope to continue this for a few years. I have to admit that these dogs are my passion — along with enjoying life in general.

Q: What advice would you give to others looking to thrive in retirement?

A: If you want to thrive in your retirement, keep yourself active and busy. Guiding Eyes for the blind is always looking for raisers, sitters and other volunteer opportunities. Learn more at www.guidingeyes.org. The dogs have really helped me get through the past year and a half of becoming a widow.