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For Catholic teen, raising Seeing Eye pups a way to serve.

It is not often that one sees a dog in church.

But Karmen isn't just any dog. Escorted to St. Matthias Church in Somerset by Meredith Kollmer, Karmen is in training to become a Seeing Eye dog.

And Kollmer, 18, isn't just any Seeing Eye puppy-raiser. She has raised eight Seeing Eye puppies since she was 10 years old.

"Church provides another form of experience for the puppies," Kollmer told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Metuchen, N.J., diocese. "As a puppy-raiser, we're supposed to give them the opportunity to experience many different environments."

In church, the puppies get used to all kinds of people, noises, activities and sounds. When the gospel choir sings, "there's the music and clap ping," she explained, and "the sitting and standing" throughout the Mass "teaches them patience."

Fr. Douglas J. Haefner, pastor, said he was impressed with Kollmer's willingness to share her time and talent to assist people who live with blindness.

"Think of how many times in the Gospels Jesus refers to blindness and sight and how he opened peoples' eyes to their own limited vision and the vision of the kingdom he proclaimed by his witness and ministry," he said.

"Meredith truly practices the kingdom in her ministry of training Seeing Eye dogs," Haefner added. "It's a wonderful witness she brings to our eucharistic celebration."

Kollmer learned about raising Seeing Eye puppies while visiting the 4-H science tent at the Somerset County 4H Fair.

Seeing Eye puppy-raisers typically care for the puppies from the time they are about 8 weeks old until they are 16 months old. "Housebreaking takes four to five months, six at the most, whereas learning to sit quietly takes a bit longer," Kollmer said.

In addition to church, Kollmer takes the puppies to stores and malls, first seeking permission from store managers. Her puppies do not go to school with her ("too much going on"), nor do they go to supermarkets or restaurants during their initial training.

The 4-H Club takes the Seeing Eye puppies on group activities such as train rides. They also visit Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., where they go through security and board a plane.

After the puppies return to Seeing Eye Inc. in Morristown, N.J., they are evaluated. The initial trainer is no longer allowed contact with the dog. If the puppies are found to have no physical or behavioral problems, they continue to the next training phase.

Kollmer sees raising puppies for Seeing Eye as an extension of her faith. "A big part of being Catholic is service to help people in the community," she said.

At the same time, she said, she has gained personally from raising the puppies: "The puppies help me become a better person; they teach me patience," she said.

Giving them up once they are trained is difficult but it's made easier by knowing that the dog will be given "to people who don't have everything that I do to help them live a better life," she explained. "They go on to become something special and great."

By KATHLEEN OGLE

Catholic News Service

Somerset, N.J.
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Title Annotation:NATION; Meredith Kollmer
Author:Ogle, Kathleen
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 29, 2006
Words:523
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