HUTTO, Texas — High school students in Future Farmers of America typically raise some type of animal including a chicken, a goat, or maybe a rabbit. But some students in Hutto are working on a special type of project.
"These dogs really do change lives,” said sophomore Mia Rafanan.
Rafanan and her friend Izzy Harris are training guide dogs to be able to one day help someone who is visually impaired.
"The fact that I could help someone in giving them that dog, that means a lot to me,” said Harris.
Their Agriculture Science teacher Natalie Nielsen is also training a dog and brought the program to Hutto, Texas.
"FFA is changing and I want to allow students to find what their niche is,” said Nielsen.
The three got the dogs when the pups were just 8 weeks old.
"High school is pretty much the perfect environment,” said Nielsen.
The canines go everywhere with them including the school bus, crowded hallways, quiet classrooms and even their personal home every day.
"Our job as puppy raisers is to take them out into different environments, socialize them, teach them basic commands, teach them to behave around people,” said Neilsen.
"We want them to stay focused and kind of uncaring to what's around them,” said Rafanan.
Throughout the year, they’ll teach the dogs to adjust to not jump on people, walk with a loose leash and turn way if someone tries to pet them
"If she sees someone come up to her and even try to pet her, I've taught her to ignore the hand and to look up at me,” said Harris.
"They don't know that you're distracting the service animal if you're trying to pet them, if you're trying to get their attention. So our goal is to also influence the public and teach them how they need to react around service animals,” said Nielsen.
"You teach them that picking stuff up off the floor, you can't do that, even if it's a piece of food that's like really tempting,” said Harris.
"When they go on in the future, we don't want them to be distracted by what's around them. We don't want to put the person who has them to be in danger,” said Rafanan.
Once their year here is up, experts will give the dogs the final leg of their training and hopefully guide dog certification.
"The thought of her helping someone else is like really special to me,” said Harris.
"They really touch our lives,” said Rafanan.
The program is 1 of only 4 in Texas and the only one in the Austin area.
Neilsen hopes more students will want to get involved and expand the program with a new group of dogs next year.