Guiding Eyes for the Blind is the third largest guide dog school in the country and has been raising, training and providing guide dogs to visually-impaired people since 1954. The nonprofit organization is based in Yorktown Heights, where its training school is located; it also has a breeding facility in Patterson, near Brewster. Volunteers raise the puppies, which includes taking them to weekly training sessions. Based in 37 regions all over the Eastern Seaboard, the training locations were recently expanded to include Ulster County, with classes now offered to volunteers every Monday night in a New Paltz church.
For 16 months after getting the pups, the volunteers are responsible for house-training the dogs, teaching them manners and socializing them, according to Maria Dunne, Guiding Eye’s regional manager of the puppy program. The dogs are then evaluated, throughout the puppy raising and training process, with just over half selected to be guide dogs. Dunne said that another 20 to 25 percent go on to have other service careers, such as with a detective agency or in a program for kids with autism, called Heeling for Autism.
The selected dogs are then returned to the training school in Yorktown Heights, where they undergo formal harness training and, if ready, are matched with a blind recipient. The recipients, who get the dogs for free, spend three weeks in the dorm facility with free room and board. After they return home with their dog, Guiding Eyes for the Blind keeps in close contact with them to ensure that the match is successful.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is holding a fundraising concert to benefit the newly formed Ulster County puppy-raising region, featuring Blessing Offor, a professional R & B, jazz and blues musician based in New York City who is also a guide dog recipient, on Monday, December 2 at SUNY-New Paltz. “He’ll be there with his guide dog Laramie,” said Dunne. “Music is his passion. He’ll be playing holiday classics and his favorite songs from his upcoming album release. A lot of our graduates are very talented, and it’s excellent Blessing has offered to do this event for us.” The suggested donation is $10 for adults, $5 for student and children, although people are welcome to donate more.
Dunne added that between 400 and 450 puppies are born every year in the Patterson facility. Most are Labradors, with a few German shepherds. “We always need more people to volunteer,” she said. “In January we’ll start with our next group, and there’s still room if someone wants to apply.”
Blessing Offor concert for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Monday, December 2, 7:30 p.m., $10/$5, Shepard Recital Hall, College Hall, SUNY-New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz; www.guidingeyes.org.