Leader Dogs for the Blind

Leader Dogs for the Blind has been on the corner of Avon and Rochester Roads "forever." I knew that. At one time I lived within a bicycle ride away and frequently passed the facility on my way to longer rides.

Leader Dog trainers train dogs in the streets of Rochester and other cities in the metro-Detroit area year-round. I knew that. Leaders Dogs was part of the community. Leader Dogs work as guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired. I knew that, too.

But that's all I knew about the organization - until I became a volunteer puppy raiser in 2008. (For that story, check out my other blog plays with puppies and the series of posts "Rosie's Road.") Back then I wanted a new puppy so I could practice my dog training skills, but I couldn't decide between the hundreds of pups on www.petfinder.com.

Somehow the universe led me to www.leaderdog.org and I clicked on the link "Raise a Puppy." As they say, the rest is history. I was hooked.

A small black lab puppy (seven weeks old) is sitting on a wooden deck looking at the camera. The lab is wearing a blue bandana with a white patch that has red words saying, "Future Leader Dog" with a red paw print. A brown leash is attached to the puppy's collar.
FLD Rosie
I raised Rosie, a female black Lab. Rosie made it through training at Leader Dogs, but when a good match proved elusive she was "career-changed." She now lives with my sister and my three nieces.

A young man in a black and white striped shirt has his arms wrapped around a black Lab that is wearing a brown Leader Dog harness. Both are sitting down.
Eric and LD Mike

I raised Mike, a male black Lab. Mike graduated and is working with a young man in Spain.

I raised Gus, a male black Lab. Gus decided he didn't want the responsibility of making life and death decisions; he also disliked wearing the harness. He was career-changed and now lives with us as a pet, and a lovely assistant puppy-raiser.

An adult black lab is standing in the snow facing left. His face has snow on it.
CC'd Gus.
A man wearing blue jeans and a red shirt with a blue lanyard around his neck and a baseball hat is sitting in a chair with his hand on the head of a black lab. The lab is sitting to the left of the man and has its mouth open. The man is holding a brown leash in his left hand.
Kim and LD Scout

I raised Scout, a female black Lab/Golden Retriever mix. Scout graduated and is working with a man in Beloit, Wisconsin.

A small golden retriever puppy is sitting on a frosty sidewalk looking at the camera. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white patch that has red letters that says, "Future Leader Dog" with a blue pawprint. A brown leash is attached to his collar. There is snow in the background.
FLD Dutch

I raised Dutch, a male Golden Retriever. As of November 2013 he is in training at Leader Dogs for the Blind.







By 2010 I became a volunteer "puppy counselor" as well as a puppy raiser. I serve as a resource for "independent" puppy raisers who live in the eastern United States. And I am thrilled to now be helping out with the Michigan prison puppy-raising program.

Through all of this, I've learned that there is much more to Leader Dogs for the Blind than I first thought.


ABOUT LEADER DOGS FOR THE BLIND

Leader Dogs for the Blind has been on that corner in Rochester Hills, Michigan since 1939. Along with providing guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, Leader Dogs offers orientation and mobility training, GPS training, and seminars for Orientation and Mobility specialists.

All services of Leader Dogs for the Blind are provided at no cost to clients. The organization is totally funded by donations from individuals, groups like Lions Clubs and endowments. A brigade of volunteers (both on and off campus) surrounds a core group of committed employees at Leader Dogs.

You can read more about Leader Dogs for the Blind on the web site: http://www.leaderdog.org.


LOGISTICS

Leader Dogs for the Blind has its own breeding program. Over 80 Leader Dog moms and dads live in volunteer host homes. Puppies are whelped and cared for in these homes until they reach six weeks old, then they return to Leader Dogs for vet checks and first puppy shots. The pups play in Puppy Land until their puppy raisers can come to Leader Dogs to pick them up.

Puppy raisers open homes (and hearts) to these puppies. We housebreak, teach basic obedience, and socialize them. We know we will eventually say good-bye. The most often-asked question of a raiser is, "How can you give them up?" I reply, "I cry. But it is not about what I'm giving up, it is what I am giving." Our puppies are destined for a bigger job - enhancing a stranger's life. "How can I NOT?"

There are more than 400 volunteer puppy raisers throughout 22 states and Canada. Each raiser is assigned a puppy counselor. Those who live within an hour of their counselor meet once a month at outings that are arranged by the counselor. Those who live further away communicate via email or telephone.

Puppies have been raised in three prison facilities in Iowa since 2002. This successful program has been expanded into facilities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Puppies raised in prison have a greater graduation rate and inmates who raise puppies have a better chance of staying out of prison once they are released. Everybody wins!

Puppy raisers say good-bye when their puppies are about 12 to 15 months of age. The puppies are returned to Leader Dogs and must pass extensive physical exams. If they pass, and are not selected to join the breeding program, they are neutered or spayed and put into formal training for four months. Upon successful completion they are matched with a client; the new Leader Dog and partner train together for another three and a half weeks on campus.

And the best part for puppy raisers - if the client agrees, the raiser gets to meet the new team!


AND THE "MORE" OF LEADER DOGS

You can't be shy and raise a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Part of a raiser's responsibility is exposing the puppy to as many different experiences as possible. We take our puppies to stores and restaurants and doctor appointments. A puppy at your side is a wonderful icebreaker, and much of your time can be spent educating people about Leader Dogs.

Leader Dogs provides training opportunities on campus and through the puppy counselors. If you get hooked like so many of us, you'll learn something new from every puppy you raise.

An unexpected result of volunteering with Leader Dogs for the Blind is the feeling of being adopted into a huge extended family. Support is always available, not only from Leader Dogs, but from other volunteers and sometimes even strangers. No matter where you go, you'll run into someone who has either raised a puppy, or knows someone who has.

We are a community, with shared goals and experiences.

From the Leader Dogs for the Blind website: "Our mission is empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for independent travel through quality Leader Dogs, highly effective client instruction and innovative services."



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