2019  HIKING, ULTRA-WALKING,

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   AND BABY MAKES THREE -- DOGS, THAT IS! 
MEET DON, OUR FIRST GUIDE-PUPPY-IN-TRAINING
FROM SOUTHEASTERN GUIDE DOGS

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11

 
"We create elite working dogs and provide life-changing services
for people with vision loss, veterans with disabilities, and children
with challenges such as vision loss or the loss of a  parent in the military . . .
 
Serving those who cannot see, and those who have seen too much."
 
~ Southeastern Guide Dogs home page
 
 
I already mentioned that we were becoming involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) in my series of journal entries in August about volunteering with Warrior Canine Services in Maryland.

In this entry I'll explain how and why we decided to raise a puppy for Southeastern and give more information about this well-respected organization. The next entry will describe our trip down to Palmetto, FL to get puppy Don in early September and feature photos from his first few days at our home. 

Subsequent entries will describe the ways raising a guide puppy is significantly different than raising a pet puppy (and sometimes even a service puppy), initial Puppy Kindergarten training, and more advanced training and "exposures" as Don earned his coat and became an adolescent by the end of the year.

But first, here's a picture of Don when he was a wee pup of just six weeks old and still living in the Puppy Academy at Southeastern:


Framed photo of Don at age six weeks that was sent to us soon after we
brought him home. All of SEGD's puppies have sponsors who name them.

As usual, this series will cover several pages because I've got so doggone many cute pictures of Don. He's a PUPPY, after all!!

(I've got a greeting card I haven't sent to anyone yet that has a photo of five very young puppies on the front. All it says is PUPPIES! The wording inside: "Come on, does it really matter what it says in here?")

If that adorable picture of Don shown above doesn't make you want to learn more about him and this whole guide-puppy-in-training process, I don't know what will.

YOU LOVE WARRIOR CANINE CONNECTION & ITS MISSION . . .
. . . why are you getting involved with another guide/service dog organization??

It's this simple: we don't live close enough to WCC to volunteer regularly or raise a puppy for them.

They are a comparatively small and young organization and their puppy-raisers have to live within two hours of their Maryland HQ or one of their ancillary programs in North Carolina, Colorado, or California.

Southeastern Guide Dogs is considerably larger. Although its HQ is near Tampa, Florida, it has puppy-raisers in seven southeastern states. There are several puppy-raising groups in Georgia, including the Atlanta metro area. We were thrilled to discover that information.

I love to tell this story of our "connection" between WCC and SEGD.

Both organizations belong to a group of guide and service dog organizations that often share breeding dogs and some of the puppies from those litters. I know a little more about how this process works with Warrior Canine than with Southeastern, but essentially each organization wants to ensure genetic diversity in its breeding colony.

Even an organization as large as SEGD sometimes needs to have another group's male dog sire a litter with one of their females, e.g., and organizations like WCC with many fewer breeding dogs have to do this fairly frequently. Usually the dam belongs to the organization whelping the litter, but not always.


Don's litter of eight puppies at one week of age; these whelping boxes are similar to the ones WCC uses.

The most successful guide and service dog organizations I'm familiar with utilize "purpose breeding."

It may sound noble to try to train rescued dogs to be service dogs for disabled veterans but the success rate of organizations that do this is significantly lower than ones that go back a dozen generations or more in the dams' and sires' pedigrees to breed dogs with proven records of temperament, health, and longevity.

And as many commands as a dependable guide dog has to learn to be compatible with a person with serious vision loss or total blindness, and the work ethic to go along with it, I can't imagine how a rescue with an unknown genetic history could even be considered a likely candidate for guide training.


Section of the Puppy Academy at SEGD for litters that are about 6 to 13 weeks old

So what does all this have to do with our discovery of Southeastern Guide Dogs?

Well, after diligent research into pedigrees, Warrior Canine Connection decided to breed one of its gorgeous Golden retrievers named Dawn with a handsome male Golden named Moose that belongs to Southeastern. The resultant litter whelped near the end of May at WCC was called the Remembrance Litter.

I fell totally in love with those little puppies as I watched them from a few hours after their birth on the Explore.org's online live cams until I got to physically cuddle and care for them when Jim and I went up to Maryland in June to volunteer at WCC for a few days:

I saw several of them again when I returned in July, just before they all went to their puppy parents.

One of my favorites, Miss Pink AKA Tuffy, was Southeastern's pick of the litter and she's being raised by a nice retired couple near Tampa. Since Tuffy is only a week older than Don, we're hoping she goes back to HQ for advanced training the weekend we take Don so we can meet her and her raisers.

This is a photo of Tuffy that I took a day or two before she flew down to Florida to meet her raisers:

So because of Moose, we discovered Southeastern Guide Dogs and the possibility of being puppy raisers!

(Warrior Canine Connection has several pups they've acquired in recent years from Southeastern, including a goldador named Beverly who is due to have her first litter of pups at the end of 2019. They've also used breeding stock from Southeastern for several years.)

WHY WE WANT TO HELP BOTH ORGANIZATIONS

Jim is retired Army and National Guard. He comes from a family that has been actively involved in serving our country, including his father, grandfather, uncles, brothers, and three of his sons.

There are more military veterans and families in need of the services of organizations like Warrior Canine Connection and Southeastern Guide Dogs than highly-trained guide and service dogs available to give them the independence they need and deserve.


WCC Tommy II and McGhee were two successful veteran service dog matches
for Warrior Canine Connection this past summer. (WCC Instagram photo)

It takes at least two years and about $35,000-$50,000 to train just one dog to successfully assist a disabled veteran or a person with serious or total vision loss. Both organizations provide their guide and service dogs at no cost to their human partners and continue their support for the dogs' entire lives.

WCC and SEGD are both well-respected non-profits that receive no government funding. They rely on volunteers and donations so they can selectively breed, raise, and train their dogs for a variety of careers, depending on each dog's temperament, personality, health, trainability, and suitability.

Neither organization could complete its mission without hundreds of volunteers to assist staff on campus and raise puppies from approximately three to fifteen months of age.


It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it!!
Don with me in our golf cart (3+ months, 9-27-19)

Both Warrior Canine Connection and Southeaster Guide Dogs breed and train Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and a mix of the two called goldadors.

Recently Southeastern put out a statement that it will discontinue breeding goldens and goldadors because their Labs have a significantly higher success rate of becoming guide dogs. That is SEGD's highest goal. Warrior Canine continues to breed all three for service dogs for veterans.

SEGD'S CANINE CAREERS

SEGD has an interesting fact sheet that lists various jobs for which its dogs are selected and trained:

Dogs for people with vision loss:

  • Guide dogs - help people with vision loss navigate independently; trained in over 40 commands.


Photo from the "Extraordinary Dogs" video of a student with her new guide dog on the SEGD campus

  • Kids' companion dogs - skilled companion dogs enhance independence for children with vision loss, preparing the way for a future guide dog.

Dogs for veterans:

  • Guide dogs - help veterans with vision loss navigate independently; trained in 40+ commands.
  • Service dogs - help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disabilities; trained in 15-20 special commands.


Photo from a recent heartwarming video about a veteran and his second service dog from SEGD

  • Facility therapy dogs - provide comfort in military medical facilities nationwide.
  • Emotional support dogs - benefit veterans and help restore a more active lifestyle.
  • Gold Star Family Dogs - comfort military family members who have lost a loved one in active service to the nation.

Dogs for children and teens:

  • Guide dogs - help teens 15 and older with vision loss to navigate independently.
  • Kids' companion dogs - skilled companion dogs enhance independence for children with vision loss, preparing the way for a future guide dog.
  • Gold Star Family Dogs - comfort military family members who have lost a loved one in active service to the nation.

  • Kids' therapy dogs - matched with adults who assist children and families in adverse circumstances, providing therapeutic reassurance to children in need.

Dogs for genetics and reproduction:

  • Breeder dogs - selected for their fine qualities and traits to ensure continuity of our lines; matched and placed in pre-screened volunteer host homes. 

I have to add here that some of the dogs are offered back to their puppy raisers to adopt if they are determined to be unsuitable for any of the above careers due to various traits or physical problems they have. This can occur at any time during a dog's first two years. I've heard and read about a wide variety of reasons.

Many of these "career-changed" dogs become excellent therapy dogs in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other settings, and some have become working dogs for police departments, search and rescue groups, etc. Others make fine family pets. Their training is definitely not wasted.

SEGD BY THE NUMBERS

Both the fact sheet referenced above and the SEGD website are transparent about numbers, including the organization's operating budget. Please check there for the details.

I'll mention a few of the numbers here that I find most interesting and pertinent:

3,100+   The number of guide dog and service dog teams SEGD has created since its inception in 1982.


Southeastern's 284th graduate guide dog class, Nov. 2019.
Some classes have up to a dozen teams. (photo from SEGD's blog)

1,100+  Current number of dogs under SEGD's auspices

150  Average number of dogs placed into guide dog, service dog, and other careers each year

2   The number of years of training SEGD's guide and service dogs receive

$0  The amount SEGD charges for its guide and service dogs. They provide all the dogs and services at no cost to recipients and continue to support their alumni for the lifetime of the teams.

$Tens of thousands   The cost to breed, raise, train, and match their guide and service dogs to the people who need them, and follow up with them for life.

$0  The amount of federal, state, or local government funding SEGD receives; they rely 100% on private contributions.

SEGD's multiple 3k Walkathon events raise funds for the organization every year.

750  The number of core volunteers who donate time at least one day per week, including puppy raisers, breeder hosts, ambassadors, campus volunteers, the Board of Directors, and event volunteers, saving SEGD an estimated $13 million a year of its total operating budget of $31.4 million.

As you can see, SEGD is a large, well-established organization. The fact sheet gives information about its professional accreditations, as well as stellar endorsements on websites that rate volunteer organizations for their efficiency and transparency.

SOUTHEASTERN'S CAMPUS

SEGD has a large campus with six modern buildings to house operations, with construction underway for two more. The architecture and landscaping rival some small college campuses!


Aerial view of Southeastern's campus from a video on the website

In addition to the pictures I'm including here from our visit on September 4-5, when we took a campus tour and picked up Don, you can also see videos and photos of the campus on various pages of the SEGD website.

PUPPY ACADEMY

This large building houses all the puppies from the time they are whelped until they are released to either puppy raisers or temporary "starter" homes at ten weeks of age or older.

In addition to separate whelping, nursery, and kindergarten pens for each litter, the Puppy Academy also houses training  facilities and play areas for the young pups, evaluation rooms, breeding facilities, grooming areas, storage and supply rooms, staff offices, a gift shop, and other areas we didn't see -- everything that is needed for the breeding and care of the young puppies.

Drone view of part of the Puppy Academy building from a video on the website


Jim stands next to a sculpture honoring puppy raisers. He's wearing
an official puppy raiser polo shirt and holding a raiser t-shirt.


These puppies are from one of the seven litters housed in this part of the puppy academy when we visited,
ranging in age from eight to thirteen weeks old. Younger puppies live in a separate nursery area.

VETERINARY CENTER

This is a full-service vet center right on campus, so puppies in the Academy and older pups and dogs in advanced training don't have to be transported off-site for veterinary care.

The vet center is for SEGD dogs only, not the general public. Local puppy raisers can use it for their guide-pups-in-training, as well as guide and service dog teams for the life of the partnerships. Free medical care for their dogs is one of the benefits of getting a guide or service dog from SEGD.

CANINE ASSESSMENT CENTER

Nicknamed the Freshman Dorm, this building houses pups for the first two or three weeks when they leave their puppy raisers and return to campus at about fifteen months of age to begin advanced training. The process is called In For Training, or IFT.

According to the puppy raising manual, this transition time is more difficult for the raisers than the puppies, who are kept busy in their new environment. Raisers anticipate it with some dread but mostly hope their pups pass all the temperament and physical evaluations so they can continue on for training to become successful guide or service dogs.

I'll describe the process more next year when we have to take Don back.

CANINE UNIVERSITY RESIDENCE HALL

The next step for the majority of pups is housing in this large building during the next six to nine months of advanced training to hopefully become guide or service dogs. There is a long wing of kennels on either side of the main entrance:

 

CANINE UNIVERSITY TRAINING CENTER

This building is used for much of the advanced guide and service dog training before the dogs are matched with a veteran or person with vision loss:

A lot of the training is also done outside on the grounds of the campus and in nearby towns and cities so the dogs get real-life experiences in harness.

STUDENT CENTER

This is the modern building where people with vision loss and veterans with disabilities live for up to three weeks while learning to navigate with their guide and service dogs. I didn't get a picture of the outside of this building, only a few shots inside the beautiful lobby while listening to Amanda, our personal tour guide from Puppy Services:

In the lobby of this building and some others on campus are several interesting "Superheroes on Parade" sculpted by Scott Joseph Moore and decorated by him and other artists:

 

Ground has been broken for two more new buildings. One is a canine conditioning facility, which I think will have a pool for exercise and rehabilitation. The other is the Center for Health and Wellness.

Maybe those will be built by the time we have to take our puppy back in (approximately) August or September, 2020. I've heard several people say each time they go down to campus, there's a new building! SEGD has been on a tear the last few years. It's an impressive campus with state-of-the-art facilities and some mighty generous donors.

CAMPUS GROUNDS

Southeastern Guide Dogs' campus is spread out over 30+ acres. As with the modern buildings, the landscaping also rivals that of most small college campuses for humans. These are some of the photos I took while Amanda was showing us around the first afternoon we visited:

 

 

Some of the outdoor areas are used for training for both the young puppies before they leave campus and for the older pups when they return for advanced training.

They are also used by the new guide and service dog teams as they learn to navigate together. You can see some of this training on the various videos on SEGD's website. And the outdoor spaces are just very nice for staff and any visitors to enjoy.

For more information, videos, and photos about Southeastern Guide Dogs, check out its comprehensive website.

Continued in the next entry:  meeting our puppy and taking him home!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, and Holly-Pup

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2019 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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