Giving the Gift of Sight

“Giving the Gift of Sight”
by Michael Aaron Gallagher

For those who are blind or visually impaired, mobility can be a constant, everyday struggle. Safely navigating city streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public places is not only time-consuming, but can also be an obstacle to personal independence.

That’s where Guiding Eyes for the Blind comes in. Headquartered in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., the organization relies on donations and volunteers to provide the necessary instruction and support to raise confident, healthy guide dogs. As one of the leading guide dog training programs in the world, it has puppy-raising locations throughout the northeastern United States, including ones in the Finger Lakes region and Central New York.

Founded in 1954, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a 501c(3) non-profit organization that does not receive government funding to operate its special programs. According to the company, the total cost of raising a single dog and offering the new graduates the necessary training and support can be as much as $45,000. Most importantly, there is no cost to the student who will eventually receive a guide dog.

Would you like to raise a puppy for the program?

The Guiding Eyes for the Blind dogs are primarily Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds or Golden Retrievers. The typical period for the dog to spend with a volunteer family is 16 to 18 months. During that time, the puppy needs to be provided with a loving home and basic instruction to ensure he or she is housebroken and accustomed to everyday life.

For 22 year-old MeKalea Chambliss, who has been training guide dogs since 2002, “Puppy raising is an amazing experience. You get to meet so many wonderful people and great dogs. Best of all you get to help give someone back their independence. It is the greatest feeling in the whole world to watch the puppy you raised and their new partner work so closely together that they are one.”
Puppy raiser MeKalea Chambliss, poses with Guiding Eyes for the Blind dogs Wren (left) and Jeanette at the New York State Fair’s 4-H Building. Photograph by Michael Aaron Gallagher.

In addition to the joy of helping someone gain freedom and mobility, there are also tax benefits that may be available for the families who raise the puppies. The organization provides volunteer families with medical care for the dog, as well as educational support services and basic puppy equipment (although food and basic supplies are the responsibility of the volunteer family). The dog is then professionally trained by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind team, who will administer as much as a year of additional comprehensive instruction, depending on whether or not the dog’s recipient has special needs.

It takes a special canine to be a full-time companion and guide dog. The screening process and training programs require the dogs to be properly socialized to handle the individual needs of his or her new owner. Those puppies that do not graduate from the program and earn their jacket are either chosen for another career (such as search and rescue, therapy or detection) or may be released for purchase by individuals looking to adopt a pet.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is an organization that is opening doors for those in need by turning everyday obstacles into measures of success. When the process is complete, blind or visually impaired students are matched with truly remarkable animals, who are experienced guides, companions and friends.

For more information on how you can raise a puppy to become a guide dog, visit www.guidingeyes.org or call (800) 942-0149.

“Giving the Gift of Sight”
Copyright © 2008 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
Originally published by Scotsman Press, Inc. (Reprinted with Permission)

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