AUSTIN (KXAN) — You might start seeing more little puppies out and about around Austin.

That’s because the city was chosen by Guide Dogs for the Blind to help raise and train guide dogs that will eventually be given away to a handler. 

Laurie Ormsby with a guide dog at the North Austin Lions Club, for monthly meet-up of trainers. (KXAN Photos/Jala Washington)

On a rainy, Saturday morning, you’d find nearly a dozen young puppies and volunteers in the North Austin Lions Club for their monthly meet-up.

The four-legged friends were just as excited as you’d expect your average puppy to be.

The group training is just a small component of what the trainers and dogs go through, to prepare the dogs for their chance to change someone’s life forever.

“Deacon, good boy!,” said Nancy Shugart to her guide dog Deacon during an early morning stroll.

Shugart is a retired Austin ISD Teacher, who decided in 2000 that she needed more than a cane to help her navigate the world.

“I just found that the white cane and I did not get along very well,” said Shugart with a slight chuckle. “When [I would] go down the sidewalk or walkthrough the mall, it [would be] hitting everything that’s in my way.”

Shugart says that Deacon is her third guide dog in the past two decades. He went through the Guide Dog for the Blind program, which Shugart credits for giving her a sense of independence again.

“It is freedom it is,” Shugart said. “It is such an incredible freedom…when I’m walking with my precious Deacon here, I feel no stress.”

According to Paul Fontaine, one of the leaders for the Austin-area Guide Dogs for the Blind, the organization gets dogs from its main location in California, where the dogs are bred.

“We start with our puppy kindergarten, that first week,” Fontaine said.

The training process starts when the dogs are as young as five weeks, and it’s all about socializing the dog.

“We want them to hear stuff, see everything out there in the world,” Fontaine said. “We want to take them to as many places as we can. You’re going to teach them basic house manners, we want them to understand how to sit and how to be down, and just how to work great on a on a leash and just basic commands.”

Volunteers should expect to help raise the dogs until they’re at least 14 weeks old. Fontaine said there is a guide to make sure that volunteers keep pups on track.

“You learn from videos and everything that’s been written,” he said. “And it teaches you the beginning fundamentals of what you need to know.”

After the dogs’ time in Austin, they’ll go back to California to finish training before they’re ready to be paired with someone who needs them. Approximately 16,000 guide dog teams graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind in the U.S. and Canada since the program was founded back in 1942, according to Fontaine.

Anyone can become a volunteer to raise a puppy. The impact is clear when you see Shugart and Deacon together. Fontaine said the Austin-area will be getting six more puppies to raise and train this weekend.