NORTH BRANCH (WWJ) – A Michigan woman who raises puppies for a cause has reached a record-breaking milestone.

Nan Nellenbach of North Branch made history this month when she picked up her 50th Golden Retriever puppy to be raised as an official Leader Dog for the Blind. Authorities say no one else in the history of leader dogs has reached the 50-dog mark.

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“We condition the puppy to be very self-confident, to have manners, to be able to work for anyone, and we’ve had a really fun time with them,” she said.

Nellenbach, who started raising leader dog puppies in 1976, said it was hard at first to give up the dogs after being such a big part of their lives for a year.

“There are visually impaired people out there that need the kind of independence that we have,” she said. “If you keep that all in a well-rounded perspective, you say goodbye and hopefully they’ll give you another puppy and you can start all over again.”

Nellenbach has been so successful and passionate about raising leader dogs that the Rochester Hills-based Leader Dogs for the Blind organization just keeps the puppies coming.

“You have to have a mindset that tells you that this is not your dog, that this is a dog that has a special purpose. The goal is for this dog to love you and leave you and then go on to something that I would call more like a higher education,” she said. “I kind of laugh and tend to think of my part as preschool or kindergarten.”

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Out of the dogs she’s help raise, only one wasn’t fit for leading due to a medical problem noticed after her first year of training. Nellenbach said the organization let her keep the dog, who now helps her train the newest leader dogs.

“What we’re doing is hoping that any puppy that comes into the household will emulate her good behavior,” she said.

Nellenbach said one of the most fulfilling parts of the process is when she receives a picture of the dog she helped raise now grown and matched with their visually impaired owner.

“I’ve never made contact. Now, that’s very important to some of the folks that raise puppies, you know, to complete what their feeling are with this project, but I’ve not been able to do that,” she said.

Nellenbach is like hundreds of other puppy raisers and breeding stock host families across the U.S. who volunteer their time and resources to ensure that Leader Dogs for the Blind has sufficient healthy, trained and loving dogs to train and match with clients who are blind. But raising leader dogs isn’t for everyone.

“You have to have an appropriate environment to raise that puppy, you have to be available for that puppy, you have to have resources available. There’s lots of different requirements, but if someone has interest, they certainly should look into raising a puppy,” she said.

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For additional details on becoming a puppy raiser or to learn more, visit