Behind the Scenes: Making “Freedom Walk” work
The web series Dogs of Destiny seeks to show all aspects of Southeastern Guide Dogs in action. But sometimes itʼs nice to look back at an organizationʼs humble beginnings to see just how far it’s come. In this ‘looking back / moving forwardʼ episode, you can see connections between what we did then, and the effects of that dedication to excellence today. Producer Jen Noble explains what the show is about, what inspired its title, and offers some BTS background about some of the amazing people in the episode.
The title of this episode is “Freedom Walk.” Those who know the campus of Southeastern Guide Dogs know that there is a literal Freedom Walk here. Why did you choose that as a title for this specific episode?
Jen Noble: Part of it is that the students who come to our campus, find freedom at the end of the leash. As you say, it is a sidewalk that runs along the perimeter of our campus. And itʼs really beautiful, but it also relates to the history of the organization because if you walk on that sidewalk, you will find these diamond-shaped features embedded in the walkway. Theyʼre made up of bricks that have engraved inscriptions.
One of the fundraising techniques they used back in the day was that you could buy a brick for a certain amount of money, have it inscribed with your name, and then itʼd become part of Freedom Walk. It happened slowly, a little bit at a time, as more and more people bought bricks. That history of giving and support is literally embedded into the walkway, and the freedom it provides is really what Southeastern is all about. Freedom Walk really does symbolize our mission.
Just like the physical Freedom Walk, which was built organically one brick at a time, this episode looks at the growth of Southeastern in a less historical, more human fashion.
Jen Noble: Exactly. And Iʼll be honest, I had never seen any of the very early photos shown in the episode of what was literally a residence, a regular single-family home, surrounded by cattle and forage fields.
Some of the stories that you tell early on in this episode have more to do with cows than with dogs in some ways.
Jen Noble: Yeah, that is true. The cows are, are part of it. And if you came to our campus and you drove like a quarter-mile down the road, youʼd find more cow pastures still there. Itʼs funny because when we went on a walkabout around the campus with Rick Holden, who is the Director of our Guide Dog program, he was talking about the wildlife. And while we were there, he was talking about, “Oh yeah, there were cows here. There were eagles flying above.” And he said that they even had otters around here—and just at that moment, an otter with a fish in its mouth starts traipsing along in the path. We, of course, tried to catch him on camera, but he was far too fast for us.
Looking at the photos of the early days, you can see just how small the organization was. It’s amazing to see how far it’s come. One of my favorite segments was one of the early dog instructors talking about how on Thursdays they’d clean out the kennels and then start mowing lawns all over the place. They did everything including going to malls and fairs on the weekends to try to get people interested in donating their time, energy, or dollars to Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Jen Noble: Yes, the instructors were everything. They were the landscaping, the maintenance crew. Rick fixed the vans. They were the marketing department. They were the fundraising/philanthropy department. They were everything. And, you know, when Rick says that, he says it very matter of factly. It was just the way it was.
And Rick knows what heʼs talking about because heʼs been with the organization for over 34 years. And the same way that Southeastern Guide Dogs grew organically, he was able to develop his talents and skills, becoming Director of our Guide Dog program. So, when you say Southeastern Guide Dogs raises up dogs and people, that is no exaggeration.
Jen Noble: No. And you talk about the whole grassroots efforts—those old photos are really fun, and I think that it really makes you feel the warmth of the community that rallied around Southeastern Guide Dogs back in the day.
There were a couple of things I wasnʼt able to fit into the story, but back then, the instructors also made the meals for the students. And they said sometimes neighbors would come in and help make the meals for the students. They didnʼt have the chefs like we do today. I hope that viewers feel that warmth and that real genuine togetherness. That everybody pitched in.
And that history, itʼs shared through the eyes of four different perspectives. You have somebody who is a staff member. You have puppy raisers who raised many, many puppies for us, and a volunteer who’s 90 years old, Marge Vita, and sheʼs the gift shop volunteer. And I mean, sheʼs a pillar of this place and I aspire to be like her because I want to be that spry when I’m 90.
And then we also have a student whoʼs been with us since 1992. Those different perspectives really tell the story of how these people helped make us who we were then, and who we are today. They witnessed the growth and they were part of the growth. They were like those bricks in Freedom Walk, and one at a time they helped build us to where we are today.
This is the third episode of Dogs of Destiny. And the first two were great at giving different perspectives on the organization. But this one provides a whole lot of different points of view all in one episode. And thatʼs what I think anybody whoʼs looking to get a kind of 360º view of what Southeastern is about finds that in this episode in a really strong way.
One of the segments that I found the most eye opening was the one about puppy raisers. You showed photos of one woman when she was young and how she is now. And you kind of do the visual math and realize theyʼve been with this organization for at least a couple of decades. Probably more like three and maybe even four.
Jen Noble: I know. We feature two sets of puppy raisers that have been around for a while. And, I will tell you when I asked for photos, especially for the history piece, Jocelyn Hargrove came with one of those big storage bins where you’d put all your Christmas ornaments. And it was packed full of photos of all the puppies they raised. Sheʼs said, “Here you just pick what you want.” And I barely knew where to start, there were so many.
Same with the photos we have stored away at Southeastern. There are thousands of photos. Some of them were categorized by year into envelopes. But a lot of them werenʼt. And so, I spent a whole day sitting there in the closet, just going through photos based on my script for the episode and what Rick had said, and what Marge had said, what all of the people had said so that we could put this story together.
I have to give Brian Campbell, who edited this story, a lot of credit. He does motion graphics, animation, and editing, and he really put a nice, polished spin on this entire episode.
I think of this show as a ‘looking back / moving forward’ episode, even in the experience of the two puppy-raiser couples that are involved. The first thing you did was look back or show the way they started. Then they talk about how they are moving forward. One of those puppy raiser couples raised a total of 22 puppies. And the other one raised, I think, over 40?
Jen Noble: 47
47 puppies! For people new to Southeastern Guide Dogs, they donʼt even think about where the puppies come from or how theyʼre raised. The reality is, if you watch this Dogs of Destiny episode, youʼll learn that theyʼre raised by volunteers who get them as eight-to-ten-week-old puppies, then they have them for the next year. Southeastern Guide Dogs couldnʼt exist without puppy raisers, and Iʼve heard them referred to as the heart of the entire organization.
Jen Noble: Jocelyn and Carl Hargrove, they are the couple that raised 47 puppies including their latest, Ruth, who’s included in the episode. Donna and David Wright, who are also featured, have raised 22 puppies. We give you a look at the puppy that they raised “Tahoe” and what she was like as a puppy. And then you get to see what sheʼs like today with her handler, or her forever friend, Gary Ernneus. And itʼs kind of an interesting transition for personality.
I liked showing that in this episode. I also thought it was interesting in the history piece, the different breeds Southeastern has trained in the past, and how we landed on Labrador retrievers and goldadors as the right breeds for us.
You mentioned Tahoe in passing, but Tahoe has a nickname that is kind of fun. Why is Tahoe known as ‘Tiny Texan’ by the puppy raisers raised her?
Jen Noble: Her puppy raisers live in Dallas, Texas, and that just tells you that they have flown or driven here to Palmetto, Florida 22 times round trip. But it’s probably actually a lot more than that.
Just say that they have over two decades given more of their time, love and money. And now, ‘The Tiny Texan’ Tahoe is now actively working with a gentleman who makes up the human half of something called The Smooth Crew. What is that all about?
Jen Noble: That was a title that was given to Gary and Tahoe by the other students in their class because they just moved so smoothly. And Gary is very stylish in how he dresses, too, so that’s part of the smooth in The Smooth Crew.
I just had to feature that. When we went out to interview Gary, I had an image in my head of how I was going to put this The Smooth Crew segment together. And I really hope that I captured it because thatʼs how I saw them. That was the aura that came about when I saw the two of them together. I think that people have fun with that when they see it.
As you mentioned earlier, everybody has their own path to get to Southeastern, to seek a dog, and to be ready for it. One of the other people in this episode, Heather Tuck, had a similar thing where she knew early on that due to a genetic condition she was going to go blind. The question was not if, but when, and she had no idea when that could be.
Jen Noble: She was told it would be 25 to 30 years, but that’s so hard to process that you kind of go, thatʼs down the road a piece. She was unlike Gary where his visual impairment happened instantaneously. Sure, she knew it was going to happen, but she already was used to not having peripheral vision or night vision. She thought that was normal. When it did happen, it was kind of like, “Hey, you know what? I didnʼt prepare for this. I didnʼt really know what was gonna happen.” It’s a very personal story, and you really have to watch the episode to understand it fully. But will say this–sheʼs got a very unique guide dog.
Letʼs talk about that for a second because one of the things that Southeastern does so carefully is to match the dog to the person. And when you meet Heather through the video, she seems like a very pleasant, everyday human being—and then you meet her dog and itʼs like they must have picked her because she was someone who could handle this love monster named Martin.
Jen Noble: He is the biggest social butterfly on four legs that youʼll ever meet. His personality fills a room and. Everybody loves Martin. You canʼt walk away from him. I think people will realize just how wonderful he is by watching the episode.
One of the great things guide dogs can do for people who have visual impairments is that they can act as a social ambassador that breaks down walls and forces interaction to happen in a very pleasant human way. All because people love dogs. They start asking the dogʼs name. Theyʼre talking to the individual and all of a sudden relationships start happening. Add Martin to that mix, and that turns it up to 11. He becomes everybodyʼs best friend.
Jen Noble: We had so much fun with him. He loved the camera. I mean, he loved the entire crew. He loved coming behind the camera and hanging out with us when we were trying to get artsy shots. And the impact he had on Heather—let’s just say you have to watch the episode to see just how big that impact was, and continues to be today.
This has been a real pleasure. Jen Noble is the producer of Dogs of Destiny for Southeastern Guide Dogs. “Freedom Walk” is episode three in the series. Episode four has got to be at least in your mind. Can you give us a little bit of a preview about what we can expect in the next Dogs of Destiny?
Jen Noble: Weʼre going to be focusing on our national reach. While our campus is located in Palmetto, Florida, we serve people all over the United States. This next episode will feature a variety of stories showing that.
“Freedom Walk” is the third episode of Dogs of Destiny, a web series that dives deeper into the many programs and stories of Southeastern Guide Dogs. Watch for new episodes on the Southeastern Guide Dogs Facebook or YouTube pages, or on our website.