Southeastern Guide Dogs Put Their Best Paw Forward

My friend Donnie, slowly going blind and legally blind for years had to put his guide dog to sleep due to her illness a few months ago.

“I haven’t had the heart to get another guide dog yet,” he said, having had the canine for several years.

Raising a guide dog for the blind is like preparing a child for college, said Shari Nederhoff of McKinney, TX.

Working through Southeastern Guide Dogs, based in Palmetto, FL, Nederhoff spent last year teaching social behavior, good work ethic, and the importance of blocking distractions to her Labrador, Maggie, before sending her off to train for her career, according to a recent article.

“The important part is that they learn not to be distracted by people, noises, or other animals,” said Nederhoff.

The nonprofit organization sends hundreds of Labrador, German shepherd, and golden retriever puppies each year to its 400 puppy raisers across the country, according to staff.

The volunteers, including about 40 in the Dallas area, receive the dogs at eight weeks old and keep them until age two, according to literature.

“Young dogs are very much like children,” executive director Dennis Norris said.

Plano resident Leslie Cechan, 51, is raising her tenth guide dog.

“I really want them to be a part of the school,” she said.

Plano puppy raise Laura Dranzer said she finds herself training the public, too.

At the end of two years the raisers send the dogs back to Florida for more extensive training and matching with a blind person, stated Jeremy Roebuck.

Those that are cut off from the program enter “gifted canine” training to prepare them for work in law enforcement or as therapy dogs, according to the program.

“Not every dog is cut out for this as a career,” Dranzer said.

And some, like Nederhoff’s dog, don’t make it into either program.

“She’s pretty sad that she doesn’t get to go everywhere with us any more,” said Nederhoff.

To learn more about Southeastern Guide Dogs or becoming a puppy raiser, visit guidedogs.org.

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