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Leading The Way Submitted: 08/23/2011
TOMAHAWK - Blindness or visual impairment can really slow someone down in life, but thanks to a local program many are overcoming obstacles.

Becoming a Leader Dog for the blind is no cake walk. Dogs are first selected from specific breeds, then trained with volunteers for one year and then an additional half year of "doggy college" before they lead the way for a blind person.

It's a long road for a puppy to get to this point, but volunteer trainer Jo-Ski Theiler says it starts out simple, "We socialize them, we teach them a dozen or so basic commands and just expose them to the world that they might be involved in."

She says raising Leader Dogs is a wonderful feeling, especially knowing how helpful this puppy will become one day, "To know that you're helping a blind or visually impaired person for the next 8-10 years, the lifespan of a young dog. It's rewarding to know that somebody appreciates your efforts."

Jeffrey Chiappetta is an appreciative owner and has had three Leader Dogs in his lifetime.
He says before his first dog, it was difficult to get around, "Travel and commute, it became more cumbersome and slower because traveling with a white cane is ten times slower than with a dog."

But transitioning from cane to dog can be challenging, "The difficult thing is to rely on the dog, let the dog do the work and let go. A lot of people have a hard time with that."

Chiapetta says his dog is nice and friendly, but you should never approach a dog, instead always speak directly to the handler, "You don't give your dog, everyone asks you, 'Oh can I pet your dog? What's your dog's name?' When I'm working with the dog I don't allow that to happen and I don't give out the dogs name."

That's because he doesn't want his dog to become distracted.

But if you would like to work with a Leader Dog, Theiler says they're always looking for volunteers, "Puppy raisers are in great need. They raise about 600 puppies a year in hopes that 300-400 of them will make a good 100% solid dog for a blind or visually impaired person."

Helping lead the way as man's best friend.

Theiler says if you'd like more information you can contact the Tomahawk Lions and she can show you how the puppy raising process works.


Story By: Michael Crusan

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