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    Working like a dog in Laguna Woods
    • July 30, 2023

    To many of us, puppies are irresistible, and the energetic little yellow lab jumping happily at a visitor is no exception.

    “No jumping,” commands Penny Gordon. “No jumping,” the Laguna Woods Village resident repeats, sternly but gently, in her role as the dog’s trainer or, specifically, puppy raiser.

    Responding to his noble name, Newcastle, the little guy obeys. After all, he is in uniform: He’s wearing a green and white harness that identifies him as a guide dog for the blind in training.

    When Gordon retired from nursing two years ago, she wanted to continue life in the spirit of her career.

    “I still wanted to do something good for someone else in need,” she said.

    After some deliberation and online research, she contacted Laguna Niguel Puppy Raisers, deciding that helping to raise puppies to be future guide dogs for the vision-impaired fit with her goal of helping others.

    It wasn’t too far off a choice: David Gordon, her husband of 22 years, is blind. He has had the help of several guide dogs, and now Dewey, a calmly alert German shepherd, lies protectively at his feet.

    Laguna Woods resident Penny Gordon speaks to Newcastle, the golden lab puppy she is raising, as her husband, David Gordon, sits by with his German shepherd guide dog Dewey at his feet.
    (Photo by Daniella Walsh)

    Laguna Woods resident David Gordon and his guide dog, Dewey.
    (Photo by Daniella Walsh)

    Laguna Woods resident Penny Flaherty, right, sits with Carina Comer, with guide dog Moby at their feet. Flaherty raised Moby when he was a puppy. He eventually graduated from the Guide Dogs for the Blind school and is now a service dog to Comer.
    (Courtesy of Penny Flaherty)

    Carina Comer walks with her guide dog, Moby, on the beach in Oregon.
    (Courtesy of Penny Flaherty)

    A young Moby takes a break from learning new things while out on walk with his puppy raiser, Laguna Woods Village resident Penny Flaherty.
    (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

    Laguna Woods resident Penny Gordon with Newcastle, a puppy she is raising, teaching him basic obedience, house behavior and socialization. Newcastle will go on to training at a Guide Dog for the Blind school.
    (Photo by Daniella Walsh)



    At the same time, Dewey patiently puts up with Newcastle nuzzling his older, temporary bro.

    “They are bonded already,” Penny Gordon said.

    Puppy Raisers are volunteers who teach puppies basic obedience, house behavior and socialization. After Gordon contacted the Laguna Niguel branch of Puppy Raisers, the organization did research of their own, found her to be a fit foster mom and paired her with Newcastle.

    “First I had to prove myself by puppy-sitting five other puppies and showing that I was patient and a good dog handler before getting Newcastle,” Gordon said. “Not having a fenced-in yard but only a patio was not a deal breaker.”

    The group’s goal is to get puppies ready to graduate to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a school founded in 1942 to assist World War II veterans who had lost their sight. Today the school has two campuses, in San Raphael, California, and in Boring, Oregon.

    Gordon got Newcastle when he was just two months old. Now he is about seven months old.

    “I watch him grow and mature, having gone through his terrible twos and now his teenage years, which begin around six to seven months,” she said. “I will have him for six more months.”

    Gordon takes Newcastle everywhere she goes – to grocery stores, offices, even restaurants – where he must learn to behave properly. Newcastle can romp by the creek, but he’s not allowed to do his doggie business there. That gets done at home. There’s also no petting by passers-by.

    “They have to concentrate on their job, but when he’s got his gear on, he acts his part already,” Gordon said.

    There’s one drawback to raising puppies, Gordon noted: You get attached to the four-legged youngsters.

    At age 14 months or perhaps a bit later, Newcastle will leave to start his next phase of training, on the campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, either in San Raphael or Boring, to prepare to be placed with the visually impaired.

    Jeanne Valenti, a leader at Laguna Niguel Puppy Raisers, said that once Newcastle settles at one of the campuses, he will begin his training as a guide dog for the blind. Coming from an as yet untested litter, he will also be neutered.

    Should he not make the cut as a guide dog, he might have a future as a service dog for the hearing impaired or a diabetic’s companion trained to smell if a patient is in danger of experiencing sugar shock. He could also become a service dog for someone suffering from PTSD.

    “All dogs are free to their recipients,” said Valenti, who has raised service puppies for 17 years. “Guide dogs for the blind are the cream of the crop, since they have to guide blind people through potentially hazardous settings like traffic.”

    David Gordon summed up his reaction to his wife’s first experience as a puppy raiser: “I was a little apprehensive at first,” he said, “but it’s turning out to be a lot of fun – a great experience.”

    Laguna Niguel Puppy Raisers is a nonprofit organization staffed by volunteers. To join the ranks of puppy raisers, call Valenti at 949-280-5464 or email [email protected]. For more information, visit

    New job for new working dog

    Laguna Woods Globe readers last read about Moby, a blond Labrador, in March 2022, when he was being raised by Village resident Penny Flaherty.

    The youngster was working hard to learn basic obedience, house manners and socialization so that he would be ready for training at the Guide Dogs for the Blind school.

    Now Moby has finished that training, and he’s landed his first job – in a vegan bakery in Beaverton, Oregon. Moby will be helping out Carina Comer, the visually impaired owner of Carina’s Bakery.

    Flaherty, meanwhile, is raising a new dog, a somewhat older lab named Ian.

    – By Anita Gosch

    ​ Orange County Register