Aug 10, 2020
Caitline Hoover plays with Wheaton, a chocolate Labrador that she trains.

When training guide dogs becomes about helping others

“Sit. Stay. Down. Wait,” Caitlin Hoover says to a rambunctious chocolate Labrador.

Hoover, a Fresno State student, is hoping to make an impact in her community through training guide dogs.

Hoover grew up in Visalia and initially did not want to attend Fresno State. She faced a difficult freshman year after moving away from her friends and hometown, she said.

“I hated my first year. It was hard making friends and I was extremely lonely,” she said.

But during her second year, things started to turn around for the better. Hoover’s mood lightens and she smiles as she talks about her sophomore year.

She said she broke up with her boyfriend that year, then joined a sorority and got involved with “Guide Dogs for the Blind.” She later found two new roommates. She and one of them, Kaitlyn McDonough, instantly clicked.

In high school, McDonough raised guide dog puppies and upon meeting Hoover, she suggested Hoover join her at a one of the guide dog meetings.

“I became hooked,” Hoover said.

With the opportunity to train a guide dog puppy, Hoover and McDonough had found a friendship hobby. Then, the dark, vibrant Labrador named Wheaton arrived. For the next year, Wheaton became a symbol of happiness, hard work, dedication and bonding for the two girls.

Mary Macintosh-Flynn, a trainer for the organization, mentored Hoover and McDonough. She holds meetings that help other guide dog trainers find new ways to train their animals. Trainers work to socialize the dogs into becoming successful guide dogs, K9 buddies, or candidates for other organizations.

“Responsibilities for guide dogs include teaching house manners, age-appropriate socialization, relieving only on leash, and basic obedience,” Macintosh-Flynn said.

Macintosh-Flynn has gotten to know Hoover well over the past couple of years. She has shown Hoover what it means to commit and work toward something bigger than herself.

“(Hoover) is extremely dedicated not only to guide-dogs, but also to her sorority, work and school,” Macintosh-Flynn said.

Aside from training guide dogs, Hoover wanted to join a sorority with a mission toward helping the blind. After all, it was a cause she was already committed to through her guide dog training activities.

“My mom was a Delta Gamma and met some great friends, so I decided to give it a chance,” Hoover said. After joining the sorority, she made new friends and became involved in “Service for Sight.”

“It all came full circle,” Hoover said. “I love being involved with guide dogs because I love working with the animals and all the people I have gotten to meet because of it,” McDonough added.

With a busy class schedule and the need to socialize with Wheaton, McDonough and
Hoover take him to class almost every day.

Hoover said McDonough and guide dogs helped her out of a dark place in her life, and she hopes to do the same for others.

“Our guide dogs give people freedom and confidence. I have met so many people who say they were depressed and lonely because people are intimidated to talk to the blind. But with a dog, people often introduce themselves and they no longer feel alone in a room of people,’’ Hoover said.

Hoover plans to graduate this year with a criminology degree. Before graduating, she hopes to get a golden retriever to train. But, ultimately she’s looking forward to her post-graduation goal of interning with Disney.

Hoover said she is proud that she had the opportunity to train guide dogs and to give back to someone in need. She knows dogs like Wheaton will change someone else’s life as much as he has changed hers.

“I think anybody and everybody would be passionate about (training guide dogs). It is so emotional,” Hoover said. “These dogs love to work.”

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