EXTRAORDINARY DOGS, TRANSFORMING LIVES
Southeastern Guide Dogs transforms lives by creating and nurturing extraordinary partnerships between people and dogs. A nonprofit with a national reach, we train dogs of the highest pedigree for people who are blind and for veterans, providing our premier dogs and lifetime services at no cost. We operate the most advanced training facilities of any service dog organization and employ some of the most talented and innovative scientists and trainers in the world.
Southeastern Guide Dogs began in 1982 with a single vision: to help those who cannot see. As we celebrate the completion of our much-needed campus renewal, it’s so fun to look back at our small beginnings. Whether you’ve been friends with us for a very long time or are new to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family, you’ve got to see this video.
The History of Southeastern Guide Dogs
In the early 1980s, Lions Club member Robert D. Miller and his wife had an idea to bring a guide dog school to Florida. Familiar with other schools in the northeast, the Millers believed that a school in the southeastern part of the country could create guide dogs that were well-acclimated to the heat and humidity of the region. They recruited an experienced guide dog trainer who relocated to Apollo Beach, Florida to begin training dogs. In 1982, Southeastern Guide Dogs was incorporated in the State of Florida and was recognized as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
After small beginnings in Apollo Beach, Robert Miller was discussing his ideas with Bradenton ophthalmologist Dr. Harris Silverman at a Lions Club meeting. Dr. Silverman began to network with local Manatee County leaders and donors, and the small school relocated to Palmetto, Florida. That’s when Dr. Silverman took over the reins, formed a Board of Directors, and began the arduous process of raising funds and building a world-class organization.
On February 24, 1984, Southeastern Guide Dogs graduated its first official class, successfully partnering six guide dog teams. This class took place at the new training facility, a country house on rented land in Palmetto. Over the years, the house was remodeled to create dormitories and offices, and other small kennels were built on the grounds. Director of Training Rick Holden has been with the organization over 30 years, and he recalls planting trees for shade and regularly chasing cows back over a fence so that he could work with the dogs.
In 2006, with the help of Board Member Bobby Newman of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, and Michael Jernigan, the first U.S. serviceman to lose both eyes in the war on terror, the school formally launched a veterans’ program serving members of the U.S. Armed Forces, starting at first with guide dogs and later expanding to include service dogs, emotional support dogs, facility therapy dogs, Gold Star Family dogs, and military family dogs.
In recent years, our campus has undergone a remarkable renewal, made possible by a generous community of donors participating in a series of capital improvement campaigns totaling $30 million.
Today Southeastern Guide Dogs has some of the most talented and innovative scientists and trainers and the most advanced training facilities of any service dog organization in the world.
Our beautiful, 33-acre campus now encompasses six modern, state-of-the art facilities totaling 100,000 square feet:
- The Margaret and Isaac Barpal Veterinary Center
- The Keith G. Hirst Canine Assessment Center
- The Barpal – Hirst Student Center
- The Grant and Shirle Herron Puppy Academy
- The Canine University Residence Halls, with the John and Sheila Auer Wing, the Progressive Wing, the Mary Scharf Wing, and the Norman and Phyllis Siskel Wing
- The John and Sheila Auer Canine University Training Center
Since 1982, Southeastern Guide Dogs has created over 3,100 guide and service dog teams, all provided at no cost to people with vision loss and veterans with PTSD and other disabilities. Today, we have over 1,000 dogs under our auspices and actively serve and support over 550 alumni teams throughout the United States.
Accreditations and Endorsements
Southeastern Guide Dogs has the distinction of being dually accredited by the two premier, global accreditation bodies: The International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International.
Accreditations and endorsements from these premier organizations speak volumes:
- International Guide Dog Federation – Accredited – Adhering to and exceeding world benchmarks of the highest quality standards.
- Assistance Dogs International – Accredited – Adhering to and exceeding standards of excellence in all areas of assistance dog acquisition, training, and partnership.
- Charity Navigator – Four Stars – Achieving the highest possible rating based on financial health, accountability, and transparency.
- Guide Star – Platinum Seal of Transparency – Achieving a high level of transparency based on data and disclosure.
- America’s Best Charities – Best in America Seal of Excellence – Awarded to charitable organizations that meet the highest standards of public accountability, program efficiency, and cost effectiveness.
- GreatNonprofits – Top-Rated – Recognized by the only people’s choice award where volunteers, donors, and people served by nonprofits share stories of inspiration to earn this coveted award.
- Better Business Bureau – Accredited Charity – Meeting the highest standards in governance, finances, fundraising, information, and effectiveness measurement.
“I just want to get out and enjoy the world around me without having to worry. Now that I have Norman, I have nothing to worry about.”Ciara Hall with guide Norman