Like many South Deltans, Carla Crofton has opened up her home to students from abroad. The difference is that her "students" are of the four-legged variety.
Since 2010, Crofton and her husband Clayton have been volunteering as dog boarders for the Ladner-based B.C. Guide Dog Services. The dogs move into boarding homes for their last five months of training because they need to live closer to the charity's office. That's where volunteers like the Croftons come in.
"B.C. Guide Dogs trains the dog during the day, so the dog gets picked up from us in the morning and dropped off around 4 p.m.
When they're not training, we get lots of play and cuddle time. You get all the benefits of a dog without the 10-to 15-year commitment," she laughs.
The Croftons have always loved dogs but weren't ready to get another pet after their previous dogs died.
"Yes, we have to say goodbye to the dogs [we board] but they're going off to change someone else's life," says Carla.
The Croftons have boarded six dogs over the years.
"There are lots of tears in the lead-up to saying goodbye, but when I have my one week countdown, I remind myself of the blind person's one week countdown - they must be so excited about getting a guide dog."
She also emphasizes how much she and her family and friends have benefited from this experience.
"Whether you want to call it giving back or paying it forward, you become a part of something bigger."
From the charity's perspective, having local boarding homes for the dogs is crucial.
"It's so important for the dogs to have a loving place to come home to after a day of training," explains puppy raising supervisor Linda Thornton. "We love that we don't have to raise dogs in kennels."
As boarders, the Croftons help socialize the dogs by bringing them wherever they go.
"Sometimes we'll plan outings just for the dog's benefit. We'll say, 'Let's go to the movies' or take a ferry just so the dog can experience it."
Crofton admits that everyday errands take longer with a dog in tow, but she loves teaching people about guide dogs.
"You meet so many new people and they have questions that they've always wanted to ask."
B.C. Guide Dog Services is currently looking for volunteer boarding homes in Ladner. The role is best suited to people who work part-time or from home. All dog food and vet costs are covered by the charity.
For more information, visit www.bcguidedog.com or e-mail Linda.Thornton@ bcguidedog.com.