Game day is learning day for future guide dogs

East Carolina University football game days have served as a learning laboratory for future guide dogs being raised by Carlton ’97 and Meghan Blanton.

The Blantons are volunteer puppy raisers through Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New York-based nonprofit that provides guide dogs to people with vision loss at no cost.

Carlton and Meghan Blanton bring future guide dogs to ECU football games to help train them to assist people with vision loss. Photos by Rhett Butler.

Carlton and Meghan Blanton bring future guide dogs to ECU football games to help train them to assist people with vision loss. Photos by Rhett Butler.

“It took some convincing that getting an 8-week-old puppy, raising it and then giving it back at 18 months old was a good idea, but after learning more about the organization and mission, I agreed that raising a puppy would be a wonderful way to give back,” Carlton said.

Guiding Eyes exposes its puppies to odd noises, new objects and strange surfaces and teaches name response and basic commands like “sit” and “down” before placing the dogs with volunteers like the Blantons.

“Our job is to give the puppies a solid foundation by teaching them house manners, continuing to work on basic obedience commands and providing them with many socialization opportunities,” Meghan said. “We take them on daily outings to help build confidence in every situation.”

Rosie, a yellow Labrador, attended the homecoming game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Oct. 20. Rosie is the Blantons’ second puppy; their first was Dahlia, a black Labrador, who attended a football game last fall.

“She was especially interested in the large, loud team buses parked outside of the stadium, the masses of friendly ECU fans once inside, the smell of popcorn everywhere and the band’s loud, shiny instruments during halftime,” Meghan said. “This was such a positive experience for her that we have no doubt she will lead her partner beautifully through the next stadium she enters.”

Dahlia has completed formal harness training, and the Blantons will attend her graduation, where they will meet her new partner. “We haven’t been through this yet, but we imagine it will be a bittersweet moment,” Meghan said. “There will be tears of sadness saying our last goodbye, and tears of joy and extreme pride for an amazing little pup who is going to change someone’s life for the better.”

Just as Dahlia did, Rosie learns about an office environment by going to work with the couple at the Blanton Financial Group in Raleigh.

Carlton and his father, Gary ’69, who has been in the financial services industry since 1970, started the business 18 years ago. Carlton, who received a communication degree and was president of his senior class, said ECU helped prepare him for his career by honing his public speaking and presentation skills. Other Pirate alumni in the Blanton family include Carlton’s mother, Cheryl ’69, sister Tamara ’94 and aunt Patricia ’73.

According to Guiding Eyes, the organization creates about 160 guide dog teams every year. It costs $50,000 to breed, raise, train and match a guide dog and support the team throughout the dog’s lifetime.