The rigors of training with a guide dog challenge our visually impaired students to stretch themselves far outside of their comfort zones. We ask them to live on campus for nearly a month, discard their white canes, and walk with complete trust in a dog. Our students overcome these challenges and more, but because of these rigors, our school only accepts students age 18 and older.
But what about visually impaired children? We’ll come back to them, but first, a little background.
Here at Southeastern, our mission is to breed, raise and train guide dogs for the visually impaired. But even with the best selective breeding and highly professional training, some dogs are simply not suited for guide dog work. Good stewardship demands that we carefully place all of our dogs, so these career-changed dogs are hand picked for other valuable areas of service. When we find a particularly gentle and loyal dog that must be career changed, we match it with a visually impaired child through our Canine Connections program.
Our Canine Connections program builds a bridge between the child of today and the independent guide dog handler of tomorrow. Visually impaired children gain confidence as they learn how to care for the dog’s needs: feeding, grooming, walking, and playing. The children gain a faithful companion, as well as a sense of ownership, responsibility and maturity. And when the day comes for them to train with a guide dog, they’ll experience a smooth transition to freedom and independence.
If you have a child between the ages of 10 and 17 and are interested in obtaining a Canine Connections dog, email Susan Wilburn or call 941.729.5665 to learn more.