A COUPLE caring for a litter of guide dog puppies at home during the lockdown are raising funds for Guide Dogs.
Harbury residents Jane and Steve Ekins, who are volunteers, homed guide dog mum Sky in 2019.
Instead of starting her formal guide dog training at around a year old, Sky is one of a small number of dogs selected by Guide Dogs to become a guide dog mum instead.
Sky, who is a Golden Retriever cross, became pregnant in early March before lockdown began.
She gave birth to eight guide dog puppies on May 9, seven girls and one boy, and these pups will hopefully go on to provide life-changing support for people living with sight loss.
Jane, who also volunteers as a fund-raiser for the charity, said: “When we have a litter at home, we’d usually have a donation box for any visitors who come over to meet the pups.
“This time around, with no visitors allowed, we thought we’d set up a JustGiving page and give anyone who donates access to a closed facebook group so they can see how the puppies develop online, whilst they are with us.
“Many charities are struggling with fund-raising and it costs a lot of money to train a guide dog, so we’re hoping this money will help contribute a little towards that.”
During the six to seven weeks the pups are staying with the couple, they will be introduced to different sights and sounds to prepare them for their future training.
Jane added: “As the pups won’t be seeing other people, we’ll be getting the fancy-dress stuff out so they can be introduced to beards and glasses.
“We’ll also wear facemasks around them so they can become familiar with how they look.”
Guide dog litters are born in volunteers’ homes as this provides the best environment for both guide dog mums and their puppies.
At between seven and eight weeks of age, and depending on government advice at the time, the puppies will be placed with volunteer puppy walkers for around a year.
The dad to Sky’s pups is Clover, who is also a Golden Retriever.
Matthew Bottomley, Head of Breeding Operations at Guide Dogs, said: “Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve put our breeding programme on hold.
“For our guide dog mums who were already expecting litters before the lockdown was announced, we’re providing our volunteers with expert advice and support over the phone, so they are well-equipped to care for our dogs and pups when they arrive.
“All of our volunteers have previously received detailed training in how to care for a guide dog mum when she is having a litter and have all the equipment needed to provide the best care possible.
“Volunteers also have access to a 24-hour emergency helpline run by Guide Dogs, where we can support in contacting a local veterinary practice if necessary.”
Visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/southamdistrictguidedogs to donate to Guide Dogs and see how Sky’s puppies develop over the next six weeks.