ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Xena is an adorable German Shepherd puppy who is preparing to help a visually impaired person live a more independent life.

Xena is part of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program locally. Regional Manager Cassie Houghton, who is training Xena, discussed the program and the puppy’s prowess Tuesday during News 8 at Noon.

“She just turned one and I’ve had her since she was about eight weeks old,” said Houghton. “She is my eleventh puppy that I’ve raised myself.”

Houghton explained dogs like Xena will be in the Puppy Program until they’re between a year and a half and two years old. Time is critical for key development. “It’s really about the socialization and learning how to interact in the environment without being too distracted to listen to their handler.”

She added, “I’ve had several puppies that I’ve raised that are working guide dogs. It’s all about independence. They are able to help their handler get out in their community, go to work, travel on planes and trains by themselves without having to rely on other people and it means a lot to them to have that independence.”

Like most organizations, Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has definitely slowed us down in terms of training and placing guides but we are finally getting back to not quite normal but on our way,” Houghton said. “We’re able to have our residential classes again. Our students are back in the dorms on our Training School campus receiving guide dogs and training there. We’ve been able to do a lot more home placements of guide dogs and we are back to having puppy classes in the community with safety precautions – masks, PPE, and things like that.”

Guiding Eyes has an ongoing need for volunteers and financial support. Check out to learn more.