By TITUS HERMAN
CEO of Southeastern Guide Dogs, Palmetto
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. Nor can we turn our backs on 256 applicants who are hoping to be matched with one of our magnificent dogs. We provide all of our dogs and services completely free of charge, with no government support, thanks to the generosity of private donors.
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 their community life. The difference between their worst days in the past and the challenges of today is that they have a life-transforming dog with them. They are never truly alone with one of our dogs by their side.
Thinking about this new reality of community-wide sacrifice teaches us greater human empathy. It also makes Southeastern Guide Dogs even more committed to continuing our essential work, with an even greater urgency to reach as many people in need as possible with our services.
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.
During times of adversity like this, it is inspiring to see how people come together for the common good. We at Southeastern Guide Dogs are thankful for all of our faithful, kind and generous friends: our staff and campus volunteers, board members, puppy raisers, breeder hosts, and, of course, our donors. Social connection is something we have all probably taken for granted, and today’s new reality makes us appreciate each other like never before.
One thing remains constant 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 world. I encourage each of you to stay confident, give your dog an extra hug, and know that we’ll weather this storm together.
About Southeastern Guide Dogs
Southeastern Guide Dogs transforms lives by creating and nurturing extraordinary partnerships between people and dogs. Our organization operates the most advanced training facilities of any service dog organization in the world. Our experts breed, raise and train elite working dogs—including guide dogs, service dogs and skilled companion dogs—and provide life-changing services for people with vision loss, veterans with disabilities and children with significant challenges, such as vision loss or the loss of a parent in the military. Pursuing our mission since 1982, Southeastern Guide Dogs now has over 1,200 dogs under our auspices.
All of our services ––which include selective breeding and expert dog training, comprehensive on-campus student instruction and the most robust alumni support program in North America — are provided at no cost to recipients. We rely 100% on private donations and receive no government funding. Southeastern Guide Dogs has the distinction of being dually accredited by the two premier, global accreditation bodies: the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International. Learn more at www.GuideDogs.org.