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Feeling like those they seek to help, if only for a while

Southeastern Guide Dogs volunteers are made "blind" during a potluck dinner for motivation.

By JORGE SANCHEZ
Published June 12, 2006


HERNANDO - A group of volunteers who raise guide dogs for the blind got a small taste of what it is like not to see.

At a potluck dinner party Saturday, the eight puppy raisers for Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc. had to manage their way through dinner and engage in small talk while blindfolded.

It's not the same as being blind - it's not even close - but it is a powerful motivation.

Cathy Johnson, a volunteer for Southeastern Guide Dogs, said it helps the puppy raisers focus on their task.

"This gives them a little tiny taste of what it's like to be blind,'' Johnson said. "It helps them take their puppy raising responsibilities more seriously.''

The puppy raisers get the dogs when they are only a couple of months old and raise them into early adulthood, about 22 months. Then the dogs get more training and are paired up with a blind person.

The dogs help a blind person maneuver around a house, walk down a sidewalk or cross a street.

"They're not raising a pet,'' Johnson said of the puppy raisers. "You have to be sure they understand they have to do all the basic training routines over and over, or you'll just end up with a pet; a dog that will get somebody hurt.''

During the potluck at the home of Carol VanNess of Hernando, the guests were led to the buffet table and had their dishes filled by volunteers. Back at the table, they had to eat without instruction.

The eating went well. The second exercise, walking blindfolded with a volunteer who tried to act like a guide dog, was a bit more troubling.

"Walking and not being able to see where you're planting your foot, that's very scary,'' said Abbie Riopeli of Lecanto, a puppy raiser.

"One thing: You can smell the food better,'' said David Hamaker, who is raising a guide dog.

Among the dog raisers were Crystal River City Manager Phil Deaton and his wife, Beverly. They have raised several dogs.

"I cry when I first get them, because I know I'll have to let them go eventually,'' Beverly Deaton said.

Phil Deaton said he was impressed by the dogs' ability to focus on their tasks. When the dogs put on their vest, he said, they know it's time to work.

When the vest comes off, "they're just like any other dog,'' he said.

On the Web: For more information, visit Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc. on the Internet at www.guidedogs.org.

[Last modified June 12, 2006, 08:08:10]


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