It is hard to believe it, but April has arrived. With less than ten weeks until the departure date, it is sometimes hard to imagine how everything is going to get done. All of the preparations have been enjoyable, but one so far has risen above all the rest... Our visit last week to Leader Dog headquarters in Michigan.
In order to be better Ambassadors for LDB, we were asked to fly out to their headquarters in Rochester Hills, Michigan for an up close and personal tour. Quite simply it was a life changing experience for both Debbie (my wife) and me. The complexity of the combined effort of all the clients, their families, staff and volunteers to support and train the team (the client and the Leader Dog) is both comprehensive and extensive. Some people might think that you simply teach a dog some basic habits, give the blind or visually impaired person a few pointers, connect the two with a harness and call it good. This couldn't be further from the truth.
The effort to breed, whelp, raise and train a healthy and skilled dog is just one half of a complex process, but complicated none-the-less. Teams of dog breeders work with LDB staff to bring the puppies into the world. Once born and ready to leave their mother, the puppies get a full wellness check so they can move on to the next phase of their training. Teams of volunteer puppy raisers spend about a year raising these future Leader Dogs and work tirelessly to prepare them for their formal training back at Leader Dog headquarters. Twenty percent of all puppies are actually raised by convicts as part of a rehabilitation process. No convict involved in this program has ever been sent back to prison for committing a crime upon release. This says a lot to me about the power of this work and the impact it can have on people.