Troy and McCoy, dogs from Southeastern Guide Dogs, visited 50 students from the Leo Club at Bloomingdale High School Nov. 13. The get-together was arranged and attended by members of the Brandon as well as the Ellenton-Parrish Lions clubs.
Seven-year-old Troy, an Australian shepherd, lay quietly at the feet of his owner, Helen Arnold, the community outreach coordinator and Leo Club liaison for Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Arnold, blind from birth, has had Troy for five years. He is her eighth guide dog in more than 40 years; she got her first after high school.
“Having a dog really helps. It got me through college,” said Arnold, a member of the Ellenton-Parrish Lions Club.
She and Anne Brown, a volunteer puppy raiser with Southeastern Guide Dogs, demonstrated the differences between the behavior of a guide dog (Troy) and a puppy trainee (5½ month-old Labrador retriever, McCoy).
Troy, on command, calmly and safely led Arnold to a door and between chairs.
McCoy amused the Leos as he strained at his leash, nuzzled students and found the aromas of the outdoor cafeteria portico floor too enticing to be ignored.
“You can see it takes time and a lot of patience to train a puppy,” said Brown. “But it’s very rewarding. The result is that you help someone go to college, go to work, lead an independent life.”
Arnold expressed gratitude to the Lions and Leos clubs for helping defray the costs of acquiring a guide dog. Each animal represents an investment of about $60,000 for genetic research, breeding, raising and training, and the dogs are provided free of charge to the recipients.
And while all the pups at the facility go through rigorous training, not all become guide dogs.
“Dogs who like to sniff, for instance, can’t be guide dogs,” said Brown. “Imagine trying to get somewhere with a dog that constantly stops to smell things. They might be good at search and rescue, though, so we offer them to the police or fire department. Others who don’t graduate as guide dogs might be good at calming veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Dogs tell us what they want to be.”
For information about the Lions or Leo clubs and their assistance to the blind, visit www.lionsclubs .org. To learn more about guide dogs or to volunteer as a puppy raiser, visit www.guidedogs.org.
Send news of community interest to Barbara Routen at firstname.lastname@example.org.