CORVALLIS - A young girl's love of dogs led her to join 4-H where she learned how to train dogs for blind people. Now a college student, Ashley Packard of Corvallis has been named a finalist for a $1,000 scholarship by Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., of San Rafael, Calif.

The scholarship is one of three given each year to 4-H members from eight western states who participate in the 4-H guide dog program. In addition to recognizing 4-H achievements, the scholarship is intended to provide incentive for further education, according to Duane Johnson, Oregon State University Extension 4-H youth development specialist.

Packard, the daughter of Melissa Packard, attended Crescent Valley High School. She has been a 4-H member since 1990. During that time she has raised five Guide Dog puppies.

Packard's commitment to training guide dogs motivated her to graduate from high school early to work at the Guide Dogs training facility in Boring. She now attends Concordia University in Portland.

Packard has compiled an impressive record of accomplishments in 4-H, Johnson said. She was a junior and teen leader for 4-H Guide Dog clubs and participated in guide dog activities at the county and state level. In 1998, she was one of two 4-H members chosen for the Guide Dog Puppy Raising Advisory Council, a responsibility that took her to Guide Dog headquarters in California every six months.

Packard has been an Oregon 4-H Ambassador for the past three years. In 1997, she was one of Oregon's delegates to National 4-H Youth Congress. She credits 4-H for having programs for "city kids like me who don't have sheep and cattle, but can find a project they can be involved in."

The 4-H Guide Dog program operates in cooperation with Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization that has provided more than 7,500 dogs to people with vision loss since it began in 1942.

At eight to nine weeks of age, puppies are placed in homes of participating 4-H members to experience life in a family atmosphere and to be taught simple obedience and social skills. When the pups are 14 to 18 months old, they are returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for formal training.

In Oregon, 114 4-H youngsters are participating in the guide dog program with assistance from 55 adult volunteer leaders. Benton County has the largest 4-H guide dog program with 33 members followed by Multnomah County, 17; Washington County, 15; and Lane County, 11.

Final selection of the Regional Guide Dog Scholarship will occur in July.

Editors note: 4-H guide dog programs operate in the following counties: Baker, Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Crook, Harney, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Umatilla and Washington.

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Duane Johnson, 541-737-1311