Leader Dogs for the Blind

LeaderDog.webWhile most grants facilitated by the Community Foundation stay in Frederick County, some do support organizations located in other parts of the country, especially when a donor wishes to support a nonprofit without an office or affiliate located here. Such is the case with The Leader Dogs for the Blind Fund, established by Edith Carmack in 1994, to support Leader Dogs for the Blind, a nonprofit located in Rochester Hills, Michigan that provides guide dogs, free of charge, to over 270 people annually who are blind or visually impaired.

Leader Dogs for the Blind was founded by three Detroit Area Lions Clubs in 1939, and clubs nationally and internationally still support its mission. Mrs. Carmack's husband was a 50+ year member of the Frederick Lion's Club, and after his passing, she wanted to continue to provide support for the Leader Dog program in her memory of her husband. Since 1994, grants from the fund totaling more than $47,000 have supported the organization, including the FY2014 grant in the amount of $4, 499.13.
This year, Leader Dogs for the Blind is providing a dog to a Frederick County client, bringing the grant full circle to provide positive impact here at home. The client will gain more independence and enjoy improved quality of life by having the dog assist them in their daily activities. Equally important is the companionship the dog will also provide for the client.
Dogs that become Leader Dogs begin training at birth. Out of all the dogs born into the program, about 50 percent are successful, according to Jenny Sanderson, Deaf/Blind Guide Dog Mobility Instructor at Leader Dogs for the Blind. The puppies, whelped by Leader Dog volunteer breeding stock host families, start receiving special handling by the volunteer host families, and then are assigned to a volunteer Puppy Raiser. After a year, the dogs spend four months at the Leader Dog training facility building the foundation they need to be successful guide dogs. This includes additional obedience and harness training, and specialized training for managing traffic, curbs, obstacles, city noise, train tracks, stores (navigating aisles and carts, mall environments) and more.
Clients travel to Rochester Hills, Michigan to train at the Leader Dog campus or to Palm Beach, Florida during the warm weather training program, where they spend 26 intensive days bonding and training with their new dog. "Clients and dogs are carefully matched," said Jenny. "Trainers keenly observe the dogs, their reactions, and how they respond to distractions. Another team evaluates each client and their needs, and eventually pairings are made between clients and dogs."
Leader Dog remains one of only two guide dog schools in the Western Hemisphere to offer a Deaf-Blind guide dog program. Clients with visual and hearing impairments work with trainers who know sign language and have special skills to work with residual vision and varying degrees of hearing impairment. If vision loss is 100%, trainers use tactile sign language, where clients touch the trainer's hands and feel the signing in order to communicate. Dogs assisting clients without vocal abilities are trained to respond to whistles.
"Helping people with disabilities become more independent is very rewarding," said Jenny. "Our clients are amazing, and these dogs are amazing because of what they can learn to do."

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