Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jess's Public Service Announcement: Leader Dogs for the Blind

There is an organisation in Rochester Michigan that has made the difference in many people's lives, including mine. This non-profit organisation has technically changed the course of my life three times with matching me with my first guide dog Jetta, then my second Glacier and then taking Glacier and I back in for retraining. Some people say I'm loyal to a fault and I think sometimes they may be right, but how can I not be when Leader Dogs for the Blind took me back in after almost three years of working with a dog and giving me the time and resources to make a relationship work as opposed to just telling me to figure it out on my own or just retiring Glacier without giving us a chance?
To some extent I think people can be biased to the school where they were matched with their service dog(s). Leader Dogs for the Blind is where I got both of my guide dogs and they were also the organisation who took me back in for a twelve day retraining session in the attempt to keep Glacier from retiring. LDB also has a lot of other programs, including an advanced orientation and mobility class, which teaches and/or assists with brushing up on White Cane skills. LDB also has a strong presence in several countries around the world, as they have dogs and trainers set aside specifically for students coming in from Spain, Thailand and many other countries where obtaining a guide dog is nearly impossible due to long  wait lists.
The facilities, trainers and some dogs are also designed/taught to work with people who are both visually impaired and deaf. In fact, Jetta's brother,  the only other puppy in her litter, graduated as a guide/assistance dog for a deaf blind person.
Leader Dogs for the Blind is also working to make walking GPS systems affordable to blind people as most units usually cost thousands of dollars. Considering eighty percent of blind people are unemployed, purchasing something that costs thousands of dollars is out of the question. This new GPS unit was given out for free to all of the students in mine and Glacier's retraining class. There is a Declaration For Independence on LDB's website where people can sign to show their support for the advancement of this high quality, affordable GPS unit.
What spurred this giant ramble about LDB and what they do is an email I received this morning. It was sent out thanking puppy raisers, donors, volunteers and anyone else who has contributed to Leader Dogs for the Blind. Even though I'm technically a client, I received the email because Mr. K and I donated money to Leader Dogs for the Blind instead of handing out favors at our wedding  that people would just toss out.
In the email, LDB thanked everyone and also stated that they are still in need of help. LDB needs more puppy raisers and also host families for female breeding stock.
First of all, I know that if you have been reading for a while now that you will know what a puppy raiser is, but let me revisit what a puppy raiser is again. Puppy raisers are families, or evens single people, who fill out an in-depth application, get visited by the school of their choice to ensure they have a safe home for a puppy and then are selected based on their lifestyle and a myriad of other factors. For example, both of my dogs' foster moms were teachers, which meant that Jetta and Glacier both got used to children, busy environments and other such things that come along with being a teacher.
Puppy raisers are asked to take their puppy out into public as often as possible  and taught by the school how to teach their puppy. There are puppy classes to be attended and people to help the raiser work through the puppy's, well, puppiness. The more positive public outings/experiences your puppy has the better. These experiences lay the foundation for how they will react to what they may encounter in the future with their blind handler.
This is, I have no doubt, a huge commitment and at the end of about twelve months, the puppy returns to its school for formal training, where it begins to learn how to work in a harness. I know this part is hard, but let me tell you, we blind folk who are so lucky to get your puppy are so grateful. I'm going to try to stay away from the cliche phrases here so that you know that my gratitude is genuine, but I cannot express how thankful I am to the people who raised both of my dogs. Raising a puppy has its challenges,  but I've heard from many puppy raisers that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The commitment does require a year of your time, but if you decide after that one year that one bundle of joy was enough for you, then you are not forced to continue on.
I have always wanted to be a puppy raiser, but right now that is just not feasible. I love the challenge of working with a dog and being able to take a little fuzz butt everywhere  would be awesome. Again, I'm not saying it's easy since every outing, even if just out to "park," is a training session, but how can you resist puppy kisses?
If you think that puppies just aren't your thing, but like dogs then perhaps hosting a breeding stock dog is more up your alley. I am not entirely sure of the rules with breeding stock families, but I do know that you cannot let your unfixed dogs play with other unaltered dogs. That basically means, that if you have an unaltered male as a family pet, then you would not be able to host a Leader Dogs for the Blind breeding stock female. The females also have to be brought back to Leader Dogs for the blind for check-ups and such, especially during pregnancy. Also, if you host a female, you get to have the puppies live in your house until they are ready to go to the puppy raisers. So, you get a bit of the puppy joy without having to take them out into public and to work with you.
All of this sounds great right? You want to run out and scoop up your new bundle of joy right now! Right? Or perhaps you feel like your home needs a "Mommy" to make it complete. Well, have no fear. I know how you can get cracking on that application. Or, if you're not convinced and you need more information, you can also contact LDB and ask as many questions as you want. To ask more questions, to fill out an application or to sign the Declaration for Independent travel go
So, what are you waiting for? Hurry, hurry! A little Golden Retriever, Labrador, German Shepherd or combination of any of these, is waiting for you. The visually impaired person who gets your puppy will thank you. Take it from a two time Leader Dogs for the Blind graduate: these dogs change a lot of lives in ways that words just cannot do justice.

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