LBK lends helping paw to Southeastern Guide Dogs
It takes a village to raise a puppy, especially if that puppy serves proudly as a Southeastern Guide Dog. Members of Longboat Key’s Garden Club spent Tuesday touring SGD’s 23-acre campus featuring a park-like setting, three kennels, nine student rooms, a full-service cafeteria, a gift shop, and an administrative facility in the organizations Palmetto facility to learn that the mantra of Southeastern Guide Dogs is true. And boy does it ever take a village. Over 500 volunteers, Veterinarian Partners, Executive Staff, Board of Directors and lots of love and hugs help keep this mission going.
Southeastern Guide Dogs is a local non-profit organization dedicated solely to the task of helping blind men and women find the travel independence that only a guide dog can provide. And the mission is accomplished only by the generosity of their donors and volunteers. With a operating budget this year of 5.9 million raising awareness and donations is always a work in progress. The miracle is that they can do and have done all this for 30 years and there is no charge to the guide dog recipient.
And the dogs… it really is a dog’s life, and a good one at that. Born and bred in a spotless, bright and airy kennel, whelped with the help of the staff veterinarian; socialized by friendly dog loving volunteers; and equipped by certified trainers for a life of loyal service.
There are three breeds that SGD’s has found to be the best equipped to assist the visually impaired: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and a mix called a Goldador. All start out as pups in the kennel. Where they are acclimated to intentional socialization that exposes them to motions, sounds, and surfaces. Then with the help of volunteers, they get used to people.
The volunteers come daily from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to “Puppy Hugging Sessions” (except on Sunday and Thursday). The sessions teach them to love all shapes and sizes of humans.
“Who doesn’t want to hug a puppy,” said Public Relations Specialist Jennifer Bement.
“They are just so adorable and happy to see you, it makes you feel good,” said LBK Garden Club member Barbara Kerwin.
After weaning volunteer puppy-raisers take them into their homes to teach them manners, obedience and social skills. At around 18 months the dogs go into intensive harness training with certified trainers and apprentices.
After harness training dogs are very carefully matched by personality and gait to visually impaired students. The students come from all over the U.S. and for 26 days the students live, work and learn with their new guide dog on the campus. There are nine dormitory rooms, a cafeteria, lounge and serene grounds to completely encompass their stay at the campus.
They keep the students at a 3 to 1 ratio, students to one trainer. Focusing on getting the student out and working with their dog as much as possible and in every possible situation, to help acclimate students to how to feels with work with a harnessed dog. That is why matching the gait of the student to the gait of the dog is so important.
“You don’t want a slow dog with a fast paced student and visa versa,” said Bement.
Southeastern Guide Dogs has several other dog partner options:
Paws for Patriots provides guide dogs to veterans with visual impairments; Veteran Assistance Dogs to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (dogs receive specialized training along with training with their new handler when matched and lifetime follow-up care); and facility therapy dogs to military hospitals such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD and Quantico.
Gifted Canines Dogs that are career changed are placed in careers appropriate for their characteristics. Only dogs that do not meet the stringent criteria for guide dog work are placed in the Gifted Canines program. The Gifted Canine program consists of three alternative careers:
Canine Connections – dogs are placed as companions for children (ages 10 – 17) who are either visually impaired or have a condition that may lead to blindness as a way of getting them familiar with the idea of working with a guide dog. Dogs are strictly companions and are not expected to guide and do not have access rights as they would if they were guide dogs.
Public Service Dogs – dogs are placed in alternative careers based on their particular strengths: bomb detection, arson detection, search and rescue, or drug detection
Ambassador Dogs – dogs are adopted by their handler and act as ambassadors for Southeastern Guide Dogs in the general public. Ambassador dog teams may select to do therapy work at hospitals, hospice houses, and rehabilitation facilities or visit schools and reading programs. They also may make public speaking appearances to extol the school and its programs.
Southeastern Guide Dogs’ has a location in Downtown Sarasota at 1618 Main Street near the intersection of Main Street and Orange Avenue. This location serves as a city base for harness training our dogs, and for trainers working with students in a more urban environment. It also serves as a center for community outreach offering workshops, seminars, and presentations touching on everything from puppy health and wellness to pet estate planning. The Center houses an amazing gift shop/pet boutique full of unique items. All proceeds support Southeastern Guide Dogs’ mission.
If you would like to learn more about the organization or to learn about donation options please visit their website at www.GuideDogs.org.