Daughter of Larie and Bob Buckler...


April 11, 1994

STEFANIE BUCKLER, 11, daughter of Larie and Bob Buckler and sister of Matthew, 10, and Kristopher, 6, of Bachmans Valley Road in Westminster.

School: Sixth-grader at Westminster East Middle School.

Honored for: Training puppies that later become Seeing-Eye dogs.

Through 4-H, Stefanie got involved in a program just over a year ago to train puppies for a Seeing-Eye dog kennel in New Jersey. Stefanie and other youngsters take the puppies into their homes for a year, from the time the dogs are about 8 weeks old.

"We teach them basic things, and we take them out in public to get used to people," Stefanie said.

After a year, the puppies go back to the kennel in New Jersey for another year of specialized training, before "graduating" and being matched with a blind person.

Stefanie will go to Morristown, N.J., in June, to watch her first Seeing-Eye puppy, Les, graduate.

"And we get to meet the person they're matched with," Stefanie said.

Les is a German shepherd. So is Sky, the puppy she is working with now.

"They're bigger, and they're usually smart," she said of the breed. Labrador and golden retrievers also make good Seeing-Eye dogs, she said.

Goals: "I want to be a physical therapist. I just like to help people."

Comments: Stefanie has a German shepherd of her own, Madison, who is 8 years old. She also has three rabbits, two gerbils and a parakeet.

She got involved with the puppy program when her mother heard about it.

"My mom was interested in the program and wrote to get information about it," she said.

"My friend's daughter is blind. She's 5 years old. It takes a lot of concentration for her to do things. [The dogs] can lead people around so they don't have to concentrate so hard," Stefanie said.

Training the Seeing-Eye dogs is different from training a pet, Stefanie said.

"It's harder to get people to understand what you want to do," she said, such as getting store and restaurant owners to admit the dogs. "You have to get permission from the manager. We found Wal-Mart usually cooperates, but most of the other stores won't."

Stefanie became very close to Les, and expects it will be just as hard to send off Sky when it's his turn to return to school. But she realized that she would have to part with the dogs when she began the program, and thinks the result is worth the heartache.

"Because it was helping people," she said.

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