Sunday, December 14, 2008

Woman trains service dogs for the visually impaired

Amelia is eager to learn as she sits in Beth Rubendall’s fourth-grade class. You can tell by the excited look in her dark brown eyes and the wag of her tail.Amelia, almost eight months old, is a dog in training for the Leader Dogs for the Blind, an organization that provides dog guides to blind and visually impaired people to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life.

Rubendall got involved with Leader Dogs about 14 years ago after she started teaching full time at Machesney Park Elementary School. Amelia, along with all the other dogs, is allowed to go to school with Rubendall to introduce her to a variety of people and environments.“We know how much that the dog means to the person who now has independence and is not having to wait for others for everything,” she said.

Amelia, a black Labrador retriever, is the 13th puppy Rubendall and her family have raised. Amelia is named after Amelia Bedelia, a main character in Peggy Parish’s books, and Amelia Earhart, in honor of the Machesney Park Elementary Pilots.The largest number of breed requests coming from the blind population is for Labradors, then golden retrievers, followed by a smaller number requesting German shepherds and standard poodles, Rubendall said.

Beverly Moody, media relations manager for Leader Dogs for the Blind, said the raisers provide excellent training because the dogs are so calm.“When they are growing up Beth exposes them to the world of bikes, fire engines, her school and any place she takes the dogs,” Moody said. “The more the puppies are exposed earlier in life the more calm and confident (they are).”The most rewarding part of the job isn’t the wagging tail, but knowing that someone’s life will be improved, Rubendall said.

Also, she is proud to be associated with an organization that is forward thinking and delivers excellent service to the visually impaired population. “Every dog is unique and has a different personality,” Rubendall said. “Some dogs are like a teenager that you are ready to see grow up and leave the house, others you are sad to see them go. But it’s great to know it’s all for a good cause.”

Staff writer Katie Backman can be reached at 815-987-1389 or


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