Southeastern Guide Dogs COVID-19 Response
This page is Southeastern Guide Dogs response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic. We will update this page as new information is released. Our campus is temporarily closed to the public and all events have been canceled until further notice. Our telephone office hours are Mon – Fri, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
May 26, 2020 — A Message From Our CEO
As we cautiously resume normal operations, here are the latest updates from Southeastern Guide Dogs.
- • Our campus feels alive again! With dogs returning to campus for training, it has been wonderful to hear the dogs playing in the play yards, and to see our trainers working with dogs on the Freedom Walk.
- • Our Canine Aquatic Center is also quite active. Our fitness team has been exercising our dogs in the pool nearly every morning, and trainers bring other dogs in for pool fitness in the afternoons (of course, one trainer at a time).
- • In other good news, all of the dogs that arrived to train on campus are returning to host homes for the weekends. Giving our dogs a weekend getaway minimizes kennel stress and maximizes their in-home socialization, which is excellent for their overall training.
We’ve announced a brand-new class schedule for the remainder of the year. Between now and the end of December, we have scheduled 8 classes: 3 service dog classes serving a total of 15 – 20 veterans, and 5 guide dog classes serving 30 – 35 people with vision loss. We have implemented robust safety protocols for these classes, which will start out small. The June class will consist of only 4 veterans who live within driving distance. In July, our guide dog class will consist of only home placements. All of our plans are driven by our desire to keep everyone safe and healthy, and plans are subject to change if needed.
- • We’ve launched a web-based series of pre-class virtual training videos and other resources for both guide and service dog applicants-in-waiting as well as alumni who may wish to review class lectures. Our hope is to give applicants an opportunity to become familiar with the materials before arriving to class, enriching their experience and helping them to be more prepared.
- • We’ve scheduled an upcoming live Town Hall meeting via Zoom, and about 25 approved guide dog applicants are scheduled to attend. An additional Town Hall is planned for approved service dog applicants. This digital venue will serve to welcome applicants to the family and share with them our plans for upcoming classes.
- • Puppy Raising Services has also launched a distance learning initiative, a virtual pre-placement class as part of the requirements for new puppy raiser applicants. During a time of physical distancing, new applicants are being approved virtually, and this six-unit course covers all of the basics that new raisers need to know. Topics include understanding canine body language, impulse control, and proper socialization, among others. Once applicants complete the first unit, they connect with an area coordinator for the remaining 5 units and to attend virtual puppy meetings
April 30, 2020 — A Message From Our CEO
We’re committed to pursuing our mission, because we know that our dogs enrich people’s lives in ways beyond measure. Thanks to those of you who have reached out to us with messages of hope and with generous contributions in support of our work. We are grateful to have such wonderful friends and supporters.
Because of our generous donors and with support from a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan, we are in the process of reinstating most furloughed employees and expanding essential components of our operation beginning Monday, May 4, 2020.
As we move forward in a new landscape of social distancing, safety continues to come first. The plans outlined below are contingent on our ability to keep staff and volunteers safe, as well as on state, county, and local guidelines concerning Covid-19.
All of our plans are tentative and will be re-evaluated on a weekly basis, and adjustments will be made based on the latest information. That said, the following tentative plans are coming together.
Staff & Volunteers
We will continue to limit the number of staff and volunteers on campus at any one time. Staff members who can work remotely will continue to do so until further notice. Based on feedback from health experts, staff members and volunteers whose jobs require them to work on campus will be screened for temperatures upon arrival, and will wear provided face masks.
Puppy raising staff will soon resume individual, local, in-person support for a limited number of puppy raisers. All participants will wear masks and maintain social distancing.
We plan to welcome 20 dogs from puppy raiser homes to our campus for advanced training on June 27, and puppies will be dropped off individually throughout the day.
Trainers will soon resume limited daily curbside pickup, training, and return of dogs that are staying in host homes. Trainers and hosts will wear face masks and maintain social distance when picking up or dropping off dogs.
We also plan to return about 20 dogs from host homes to campus for training. These will be the dogs in the earliest stages of training who will benefit greatly from on-campus training. Our goal is to have these dogs remain on campus during weekdays and return them back to host homes on weekends.
Because of the close proximity required between trainers and visually impaired students during guide dog classes, the June 7 class will be postponed. To adjust, we are implementing distance learning strategies for the lecture portion of class, which will better equip new students for future on-campus training. The next guide dog class is tentatively scheduled for July 26.
For service dog classes, we have determined that trainers can effectively conduct class while maintaining ample distance between themselves and the students. Therefore, we are considering moving forward with two small service dog classes to commence June 15 and July 7. Class sizes will be limited to a maximum of 4 veterans who live within driving distance of our campus, and students and trainers will be screened for temperatures daily and wear masks.
That’s our best thinking today…
Of course, all of these plans are tentative and subject to change. Our first and foremost goal will be to keep our valued staff, volunteers, students, puppies, and dogs safe, and also to achieve full compliance with governmental guidelines. We will continue to adjust our strategy and plans every week as new information becomes available. Until then, keep healthy, keep smiling, and keep washing your paws.
April 2, 2020 — A note from one of our alumni
It’s reassuring to know that our dogs are playing a big role in helping our graduates get through this difficult time. Here’s a note from one graduate, Sarah Leger, pictured here with her guide dog, Doc Champion.
This “stay at home order” has only strengthened the bond between my guide dog and me. Doc Champion seems confused at times as to why we aren’t leaving the house. She loves to work and go places. When the weather is nice, I put her harness on and we walk on our driveway. She definitely keeps us smiling! We’ll all get through this together. I am so thankful to have Doc Champion by my side. She is truly an amazing guide dog and I love her so very much.
March 31, 2020 — Message from our CEO
I hope this letter finds you healthy and safe, and my heart goes out to all who are affected by COVID-19. My thoughts are with our community of friends as we continue to navigate these unprecedented circumstances. I’m sure you are making difficult decisions right now, like we are.
Even though it hasn’t been easy, our guide and service dogs are still hard at work at home with their trainers, learning the necessary skills for their future careers. Meanwhile, for health and safety, we’ve had to cancel upcoming classes, but we continue to process applications and support our nearly 600 alumni across the U.S. When the time comes, we will be ready to resume placing our magnificent dogs into the hands of people who need them.
Looking ahead, we’re still hopeful. However, with donations down and the economy suffering, the weeks and months ahead remain uncertain. To be proactive and maintain the long-term viability of Southeastern Guide Dogs, we’ve made difficult cost-containment decisions so we can be here for people with vision loss and veterans with disabilities who rely on us now and in the future.
These decisions include temporarily closing a number of our buildings to save utility costs, grounding our fleet of vehicles, and suspending all nonessential activities. In addition, we have made the painful decision to temporarily furlough a number of employees and reduce salaries across the board. We are saddened by this massive disruption to the affected team members and their families, and hopeful that we can open up their positions again as soon as possible.
None of these decisions have been easy, yet despite difficulties, we’re still pursuing our mission. Our generous volunteers and donors have always stood by our side, through good times and bad, and I know they will continue to do so now. We will emerge from this stronger than ever, positioned to quickly resume our services, with your help.
Please hug your family and your dogs, and know that we are grateful for your ongoing friendship.
Chief Executive Officer
March 23, 2020 — Message from our CEO
Everywhere across the United States, the coronavirus has caused anxiety and real economic harm to people we know and love, and it has created fear for those who depend upon the services of nonprofit organizations such as Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Our organization currently provides ongoing services to 592 visually impaired individuals and veterans living and working alongside our precious guide and service dogs every day. These individuals rely on us for many things, including in-home training, dog food, preventatives, vaccinations and annual veterinary wellness visits – and we cannot turn our backs on them.
So, we are doing our best to adapt and persevere. To protect the health of our staff and volunteers we have temporarily switched a large portion of our operation to a remote model while continuing to operate the vital components of our campus, which include the puppy nursery, veterinary center, and facilities maintenance. Our valued puppy raisers continue to provide obedience, house manners, and basic training to more than 300 dogs; and our excellent trainers, working from their home environments, continue to provide advanced guide dog and service dog training to 100 dogs. All in all, our team is ensuring the care and wellbeing of nearly 1,200 puppies and dogs.
As frustrating as this new self-isolation period is for all of us who have never been forced into social distancing before, this time of great emotional duress also makes us more aware of the challenges our clients with disabilities experience regularly. Many have suffered years of social isolation before being matched with a guide or service dog that allows them to reengage in community life. This new reality of community-wide sacrifice teaches us greater human empathy. It also makes Southeastern Guide Dogs even more committed to continuing our transformational work, with an even greater urgency to reach as many people in need as possible with our services.
During times of adversity like this, it is inspiring to see how people come together for the common good. I’m thankful for each of you in our circle of friends, and grateful for your ongoing support. Social connection is something we have all probably taken for granted, and it makes us appreciate each other like never before.
One thing remains strong in this life, and that’s our bonds with our dogs. Their unconditional love, affection and loyalty will always be a bright spot in our lives. I encourage each of you to stay confident, give your dog an extra hug, and know that we’ll weather this storm together.
Chief Executive Officer
March 17, 2020 — Video update, prior to shelter-in-place strategies
With the events facing the world today, we’re taking precautions on behalf of our people and dogs here at Southeastern Guide Dogs. Listen as CEO Titus Herman shares this timely update. Thank you for your ongoing interest and support as we face these uncertain times together.
Chief Executive Officer