It was a beautiful sunny morning and I, naturally, gravitated toward the beautiful black lab. Later on when we were in the park, his handler said to me, “he’s a service dog, I’m visually impaired”. At that very moment, my interest in this beauty shifted to admiration. Robbie’s life had completely changed when she was diagnosed with Usher’s Syndrome. A disease which in her case, causes her to gradually lose her vision and hearing. She wasn’t sure she wanted a service dog. She had dogs throughout her life, but at this point in the game, she wasn’t sure she could handle the long term commitment and responsibility…then she met Spike and everything changed. “Bonding was instant”, says Robbie “trust was a bit harder”. Nonetheless, she knew to go with the flow of whatever led her to Southeastern Guide Dogs, a school based out of Palmetto, Florida that trains and provides the visually impaired with guide dogs. “I couldn’t believe it when I received the call notifying me that I had been selected, they provided the guide dog, equipment, single-room lodging, all meals, outings, instruction for 26 days and post-graduation support completely free of cost”. If that’s not impressive enough, Southeastern Guide Dogs is a non-profit organization fully supported by private donations. Most of the staff at the school are volunteers that truly believe in the cause.
One of the things I was most impressed with is that Southeastern Guide Dogs not only has this amazing program of placing dogs with visually impaired people, but also they have programs for Veterans and children. The Canine Connections program is specifically designed for visually impaired children ages 10-17 and the Paws for Patriots Program places guide dogs with blinded soldiers. Some dogs are even trained to show empathy to help mitigate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and some will hug veterans on command when they are having a flashback or an anxiety attack. I was so touched when I heard about this and about Robbie and Spike’s story that I had to get in touch with Southeastern Guide Dogs and spread the word about all the wonderful things they are doing to help those in need. Please look them up at www.guidedogs.org and if you are so inclined, make a donation to benefit their cause. Also stay tuned for fundraising events here in our local area and hats off to these wonderful dogs that make such a difference in our lives.