France first-hand: We fostered a 'blind dogs' puppy

Nicole Marty talks about a rewarding time for her and partner Gérard with a guide dog in-training

Nicole Marty holding onto Ulotte outside the Chiens Guides d'Aveugles Centre-Ouest
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"We had always wanted to foster a puppy from the Chiens Guides d'Aveugles Centre-Ouest," says Nicole Marty. "But we were both working and also we had a cat who would not have made friends with a puppy so we had to wait." 

She and her husband Gérard had been volunteers at the association for six years by the time they took the plunge, so they knew what they were getting into.

 “Even so, the meetings before we collected Ulotte were very useful. We learned in detail exactly what would be involved, and we also received a lot of guidance on how to bring up a puppy."

In May 2023, they finally took a two-month old female Labrador puppy home. "You need to have lots of availability," says Ms Marty.

"You can't leave a puppy alone for more than half an hour, maybe an hour when they are older. We didn't have any problems settling Ulotte in or teaching her to be clean in the house though. The methods we were taught really worked very well."

For the first four months, Ulotte stayed home with them as they taught her basic skills such as walking on a lead, not climbing on beds or sofas, and not begging for food at the table. 

"When she was four months old, she started going to training school one morning a week, and interacting with the other dogs. We would drop her off and pick her up after her classes."

Training school

At six months old, Ulotte began spending one week a month at the training school. 

"It was like boarding school for dogs. She loved it. We would drop her off on Monday morning and collect her on Friday night. By the time she was 14 months old, this had increased to spending every week at the training school. It is like she is a weekly boarder at school. She just comes home on weekends."

The couple have not quite said goodbye to Ulotte yet, although she is nearing the end of her training and will soon be partnered with a blind person.

"It has been a super experience, and although it will be hard to let her go, we always knew we would have to, in order to help someone else. And that's the whole point. We don't know if we'll see her again once she leaves us because dogs can be partnered with people all over France. But if she is partnered with someone local, we hope we'll see her out and about."

The experience has been so positive that the couple have already decided to do it again. "Gérard already knew a bit about training dogs, but it was all new to me, and we've both learned so much!"

Read more: How your cat or dog can also be a blood donor in France

Read more: How to become a guide dog trainer in France

Fostering facts

  • Families with children can foster a puppy.

  • Adults who work can foster a puppy if they can take it to work with them, or if they can work at home.

  • It costs around €25,000 to train a guide dog, counting the on-going training they receive until they retire at 10 years old.

  • Dog food is supplied.

  • Vets' bills are paid for regular check-ups, vaccination and sterilisation.

  • Once a partner is chosen for a dog, the new pair train together full-time for a fortnight, in order that the dog recognises its new owner, and the new owner knows how to look after the dog, and make the most of its skills.

  • Foster families can keep in touch with the puppies they have brought up. 

  • Retired guide dogs can either be returned to the association for re-homing, or can be kept by their owner.

  • Find more information on fostering a puppy, as well as details of the organisations offering it near you here.