Guide Dogs for the Blind was established in 1942 to assist veterans blinded in WWII. Today, GDB offers its life-long services free-of-charge to thousands of people throughout the United States and Canada. Its staff, volunteers and supporters are inspired by the vision: “We use our power of partnering to improve quality of life.” The organization depends on private donations and receives no government funding.
Over 20 years ago, Lorrie learned about Guide Dogs for the Blind, and so my family has had the pleasure and privilege of serving with an organization that has trained more than 10,000 guide dog and blind partner teams since its founding in 1942. Lorrie became involved, and I soon joined in, when our girls Kate and Kelly were very young as a way of teaching them about giving back and developing a sense of empathy for the needs of others.
And the rewards have been extraordinary.
Kate has raised and trained two puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was nine when they sent us our first puppy, a yellow Labrador named Misty. Even at such a young age, Kate took her duties very seriously. To train Misty, Kate would get up early, stay up late, and wait in the rain for her to relieve, but most of all, she would exercise a level of patience that is uncommon in children her age. It gave her a real sense of responsibility and awareness towards others.
It was Valentine’s Day when Misty had to be sent on to another family for her guide dog training, and the experience of giving up the puppy was excruciating for Kate. But even as a child, she understood the great value of the guide dogs program. “We’re helping people,” she’d say, “and giving them their freedom back.” Today we are custodians of our fourth breeding dog, Fame, a beautiful retriever-lab mix, who just had her final litter of guide dog puppies. (For those of you who are wondering, Fame got her name, coincidentally, from a breeder a year before Flight 1549.)
Being a part of the guide dog community has been a joyful and worthwhile experience for our family. This is why it troubled us when an acquaintance asked if we could get her a service dog vest for her pet so she could take it more places with her. Of course, we told her that we would not. This increasingly common practice of outfitting untrained pets as service dogs is detrimental to those who legitimately depend on their companions to get around. Service dogs receive years of valuable training, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, to relieve only on command, and not to bark or to be distracted by other animals, people or things in their environment. Think of service dogs as holding a PhD, compared to pets who may behave like kindergarteners. These valuable service animals must be given the ability go places such as airplanes, restaurants and businesses, where there are restrictions on ordinary pets.
We hope that if you are interested in this wonderful experience or in supportingGuide Dogs for the Blind, you will get involved. We think you’ll be as glad you did as we are.