Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Southeastern Guide Dogs







There are definitely days when I feel like I have a split personality. During the weekdays I'm "Pottery Chick" hard at work getting dirty with the clay and glazes. On the weekends I shed my muddy clothes and put on blue jeans, boots, a Harley Tee and a helment and jump on the back of my sweet husband's Ultra Classic Harley Davidson. This past Saturday our HOG Chapter took a very special ride to Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD). SEGD has been the recipient of our chapter's fund raisers for a number of years. Every year we take a couple of rides to SEGD to tour the facility, see the dogs in training and play with the puppies. It's a lot of fun to see burly, ex-teamsters cuddling up to little puppies. It's an activity that everyone in the group loves. Some of our riders also got to put on black-out glasses and let a guide dog lead them on a pathway. It's a very interesting feeling to surrender and trust the dog.

But, SEGD isn't just about raising puppies. It's a long involved process to raise and train a guide dog. The entire process costs SEGD $60,000 per dog and they don't receive any federal funding! The money comes solely from donations from individuals like our HOG members as well as from businesses. SEGD is a premier facility, one of only a few in the country. They started out in the early '80s with no facility and no dogs, just an idea and they've made it work.

The dogs used are ones that come from specific breeders to make sure that certain traits that they want are there and those that they don't want are not. Labs and Goldadors (a mix between Lab and Retriever) were the puppies that we got to play with this time. SEGD also tries to keep the cost of maintenance down for the recipient. Dogs that would require special grooming are not an option. Sorry, no poodles here.

The process of turning a puppy into a guide dog doesn't happen overnight. Once the puppies get to a certain age, they are outsourced to volunteer homes. The idea is to socialize the puppies and make them comfortable in every environment that they might have to go into as a guide dog. The host is given a jacket that the dog will wear when they go out and about. The jacket has the SEGD logo and the words "Puppy In Training." Most public establishments will honor the jacket and allow the puppy to enter. The hosts are encouraged to take the puppy with them just about everywhere they go. After this training phase is over, the puppy is returned to SEGD for final training. This is the nitty gritty. The dogs learn "intelligent disobedience." The dog has to be smart enough to know that if the master says "forward" and there are cars coming, the dog should stay not go foward. There are a number of commands and situations that the puppies are put through in their training. SEGD has a wonderful complex that has mock bridges and bus stops. But that can't take the place of a busy downtown street, so the pups are taken to downtown Tampa to navigate the downtown traffic. Each dog is assessed for traits, such as the speed that the dog walks. There are some dogs that don't make the grade as a guide dog and are evaluated for companion dogs.

Once the dogs finish with their evaluation, a class of recipients is brought in. The facility has a dormatory where they stay. They will be living at SEGD, meeting, getting to know and working with their new dog. The staff does an excellent job of evaluating the recipient and matching their traits with a dog. SEGD also offers follow-up visits. It's not just a "here's your dog, have a good life" at SEGD. If need be they will do a home visit to assist. It's a life-long commitment.

One program that SEGD has recently launched is Paws for Patriots. This program provides guide or companion dogs to returning veterans, at no charge to the vet or the US Government. Our HOG Chapter specifically contributes to the Paws for Patriots program. The local Fox affiliate ran a piece on Paws for Patriots recently. Look to the right of this page for the video.

This was my third visit to SEGD. Every time I learn a little bit more about the organization, and gain a lot more respect for what they do. I wonder if these little pups have any idea of what a noble future they will have ahead of them.

1 comment:

Little Pig said...

sweet, sweet puppy. Lovely post about them doggies