Saturday, February 28, 2009

Training dogs for the visually impaired!

Two Clifton Park families are training the first dogs in the Capital Region that they hope someday will help disabled people lead normal lives.

Lee Sheldon of Jonesville said she has raised three other puppies over the years as part of program to train dogs to be guide dogs for the blind.

“We had two successes and one flunk-out, but they were all great dogs and my family and I wanted to do it again,” she said.

But, the puppy that couldn't meet the exacting standards required for a guide dog could easily have been shifted into specific training for the National Education for Assistance Dog Service, which trains the dogs to serve deaf or otherwise disabled children and adults.

Leslie Neely of Clifton Park is also raising and training a Labrador retriever puppy for NEADS. She said each dog has its own personality and that personality must match with the job it will be assigned.

“A guiding eyes dog must be ready to step out and lead without any distraction,” Neely said. “A NEADS dog may be trained to fetch a phone or pick something off the ground if it is dropped by a person in a wheelchair, which is less restrictive.”

She said other tasks performed by the dogs include alerting a deaf owner to a phone ringing or someone at the door.

Dr. Richard Germano, medical director of the Animal Health Center in Clifton Park, has donated his services to neuter the dogs for the program.

He said Labrador retrievers are often used as service dogs because they are normally even-tempered and quite easily trained.

The breed is loyal and motivated to please so they train readily, he said.

Germano said he agreed to help with medical care for the NEADS dogs because he and his wife, Christy Ann Coppola, had recently spent two years raising a puppy for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the nonprofit guide dog school in Westchester County that provides the blind and visually impaired with guide dogs, training and lifetime support services.

He said although he loved the dog, named Darren, and misses him still, he feels a sense of pride that he participated in helping a blind person to gain some independence.

“If Darren were to fail in school, we would want him back,” he said.

Sheldon said she doesn’t want the lifetime commitment of owning a pet, but she does like to have a dog in the house and to help in its training.

Her 6-month-old trainee, Willow, runs through the house and last week spent an hour playing with Neely’s puppy, Jerri.

The women said training the NEADS dogs includes playtime and games like hide-and-seek with people or objects.

“You can teach commands with the games,” she said. “I will hide, and then I say my name until Willow finds me.”

Sheldon is the coordinator for NEADS in New York, and she and Neely have the first dogs in the program locally.

She said there are also NEADS programs in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

An orientation class is held at the NEADS headquarters in Princeton, Mass., before people and dogs are matched for the initial training program, which lasts about one year, Sheldon said.

“When you get a dog, NEADS pays for everything from the food to the medical bills,” she said, adding that donated medical services are sought whenever possible.

“The dogs and their costs are also tax deductible,” she said. “If you take them in the car for a doctor’s appointment, that mileage is deductible.”

Besides looking for families and individuals who are interested in a full-time training situation, NEADS also needs backup families to take dogs and continue the discipline and training when the main family is on vacation or otherwise unable to care for the dog.

She said anyone interested in participating in the program may write to her by e-mail to: and she will respond with the program’s expectations and opportunities.


Post a Comment

<< Home