I recently became the photographer for a great organization in Palmetto – Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. Since its inception in 1982, SEGD has provided more than 2,270 dogs to visually impaired men and women throughout the United States. Many people don’t realize the time and effort involved in this process… it takes almost two years and $40,000 to prepare a successful guide dog team!
Guide dogs start training as young puppies. “Puppy raiser” families take the nine week old puppies into their home, and teach them basic obedience, good manners, and socialization. The puppies live with the family until about 14 to 20 months of age, at which time they return to Southeastern to begin the more formal training process of becoming a guide dog.
Upon returning to Southeastern, the dogs undergo a strict selection process. They are trained by professional trainers for 4 to 6 months, and learn over 40 commands. Once the dogs are fully trained, they’re matched with visually impaired recipients in a 26 day training program. During this time, the person and dog learn to work as a team, and they develop the bond of trust, love and devotion that is necessary to the success of a guide dog team.
I am lucky enough to witness this process on the days that I volunteer to take photographs at SEGD. It’s so impressive to see these people and their dogs working together. Below are some photos from recent “Puppy Raiser Days”… these days allow the puppy raiser families to meet the visually impaired recipient of the puppy they raised, and to view the puppies (now fully trained) and recipients in a working environment. It’s an emotional day for the puppy raisers, as they’ve obviously formed a strong bond with their puppy. The Puppy Raiser Day allows them to see firsthand that all of their hard work has paid off.
If anyone is interested in volunteering for (or donating to) Southeastern Guide Dogs, please contact them at (941) 729-5665 or check out their website at http://www.guidedogs.org/.