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Otterbein alumni couple Dave and Kathy Morris Orbin help train service dogs for the blind

Otterbein alumni couple Dave and Kathy Morris Orbin help train service dogs for the blind

Although they were previously cat owners, retired couple Dave ’66 and Kathy Morris ’67 Orbin were inspired to see through the challenges of puppy training to raise guide dogs for blind people. Since 2009, the couple has raised nine puppies at their home in Drums, PA, for The Seeing Eye® Puppy Raising Program.

A Cardinal couple, Dave and Kathy left campus with a love for each other — and Otterbein’s values.

“I believe that the students and faculty at Otterbein in the late ’60s were a model of a caring community,” said Dave. “I had a wonderful advisor, and the entire faculty and staff cared about and supported each student. Many of the faculty went out of their way to help students grow and succeed.”

Dave applied the same level of care he learned at Otterbein as a professor of biology at Penn State University. After retiring, the couple’s caring nature went to the dogs.

The Orbins first learned about raising guide dogs through a friend, and later through PawsAbilities, a puppy-raising club in Luzerne County, PA, affiliated with The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the nation.

“Kathy spent the afternoon talking with the group and holding a puppy. That pretty much sealed the deal,” Dave said.

Based in New Jersey, The Seeing Eye is a philanthropic organization whose mission is to enhance the independence, dignity, and self-confidence of blind people through the use of seeing eye dogs.

According to Dave, The Seeing Eye has supplied more than 16,000 guides to more than 8,000 persons since its founding in 1929.

The Seeing Eye gives puppies from their breeding program to volunteer foster families at seven weeks of age. Families raise the puppies until they are a year to a year and six months old. The puppies are then returned to The Seeing Eye, where they are trained in harness by professional trainers for approximately four months. The trained dogs are then matched with a blind person.

The Orbins received their first dog from The Seeing Eye in April 2009, a seven-week-old yellow lab named Rainy.

“Our primary responsibilities are to housebreak the puppy, teach it basic commands and socialize it in all kinds of environments. We take the puppies nearly everywhere we go,” Dave said. “Rainy visited our bank, auto repair shop, shopping malls, restaurants, motels, amusement parks, museums  and church.”

Raising a puppy is a full-time commitment and requires a lot of work. But according to Dave, the biggest challenge is not in raising the puppies. “I suspect that the biggest challenge for a puppy raiser is letting go of a dog that has been part of your family for over a year.

“The separation is softened by the knowledge that the puppy will go on to provide a wonderful service, and the knowledge that another seven-week old puppy will soon be entering our home.”

In December 2014, one of their puppies returned home. The Orbins adopted Sally, a puppy they had raised, when she retired after spending three years as a breeding dog for The Seeing Eye.

The Orbins have now raised nine puppies — seven yellow Labrador retrievers and two German shepherds.

“The goal of the guide dog is to give independence and dignity to a visually impaired person. Guide dogs give blind people the ability to go where they want, when they want. Seeing a blind person, head held high, briskly walking with their dog is wonderful.  Knowing that we play a part in making that possible is all the reward we want,” Dave said.

Read other alumni stories and discover more ‘hidden lives of Otterbein’ in the latest issue of Towers Magazine.