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Volunteer Socializes Thousands Of Puppies In Their Journey To Become Guide Dogs For Blind

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX SF) -- On any given day in downtown San Rafael, passersby will see dozens of guide dogs being trained in real-life crosswalk and traffic situations. But long before these dogs get to the street, thousands of volunteers help socialize and raise them as puppies.

Katie Taggart is one of those volunteers. She regularly leads play time at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael. Over the years, as an official puppy socializer, Taggart has spent countless hours playing with, cuddling and gently correcting thousands of puppies destined to be guide dogs.

So many dogs have been socialized by Taggart, she has to guess at the number. "10,000 or some crazy number," she ventured. "I don't know, a lot of dogs, and then in the whelping kennel, there is 6-7 dogs a litter and there may be ten litters in there and I would be handling every single dog before I left at the end of my shift."

But Taggart doesn't just play with pups all day. She walks older dogs who live on the non-profit's main campus and are used for breeding purposes. In fact, since starting as a volunteer in 2006, Taggart has done just about every volunteer task Guide Dogs for the Blind has a need for, including mundane stuff like wiping down cabinets and watering plants.

It's a can do attitude that everyone at the organization sees in Taggart, including Guide Dogs' CEO Christine Benninger.

"She is always positive. She truly believes in the mission," explained Benninger. "She can't be supportive enough to everybody she comes in contact with."

Theresa Stern couldn't agree more. She both works for, and benefits from, Guide Dogs for the Blind. And she says volunteers like Taggart are vital to the organization's goal of improving lives.

"Having a guide dog absolutely changed my life in an amazing and profound way, "explained Stern. "You know I got around, I did okay. But I was never that comfortable going out on my own to places I have never been before. I just feel like I can do anything I want to do with a guide dog by my side."

Taggart says she feels so committed to her volunteer work with the dogs, she recently committed to showing it - literally - by getting a tattoo on her arm of a paw print. It's a fun reminder of her life's passion.

"Well you've got to have a puppy paw {tattoo} if you are a guide dog volunteer, right?" joked Taggart.

The tattoo also marked a special occasion in Taggart's own life. She got it a year ago, when she turned 79. About the same time she got a few other tattoos.

"She is just someone that puts a smile on everybody's face," said Stern. "Including mine every time and you just never know what amazing thing she has done."

So for helping thousands of dogs go on to improve thousands of lives of people visually impaired, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Katie Taggart.


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