Thursday, April 07, 2005

Leader Dog Guest Speaker

At our April 7th meeting we were pleased to host Mr. Roger Weiss as our guest speaker. Roger was accompanied by his wife Floss and his new Leader Dog named Layla.

Roger started losing his eyesight to macular degeneration in the late 1980's. Layla is his second Leader Dog. He made the trip to the Leader Dog headquarters in Rochester, Michigan this past winter to receive Layla and go through extensive training with her.

Roger told us many details about the facilities in Rochester, the training program, and the dedicated staff, as well as the emotional journey that accompanied his visit. First-time Leader Dog recipients go through a 25 day training program. Repeat Leader Dog visitors like Roger go through a shorter training program of 20 days.

During training, the dogs bond with their new owners. Real-world situations are presented to the trainees, such as navigating through city traffic in Detroit, visits to restaurants and other establishments, and nighttime situations. Trainers conduct surveillance on the trainees and often attempt to put them into "surprise situations", like facing an aggressive driver.

The dogs are literally "at work" while their harness is on, and are not to act like pets. Begging for table scraps, seeking affection, and numerous other distractions are discouraged. After all, the owner's life is at stake if the dog loses focus or concentration while guiding his or her owner. But once the harness comes off, Layla and dogs like her are normal pets, playful and eager to love and be loved.

The facilities in Rochester have been dramatically upgraded since Roger's first vist some fifteen years ago. Trainees are welcomed with leather furniture, private dorm rooms, a laundry room, a dog grooming room, and a big-screen TV in a lounge area. Top-notch vets are on-site with facilities to see to the dogs' health.

Mr. Weiss is now retired from a 23 year career with Verizon. He teaches photography to school students on a part time basis, and also indulges in an avid amateur photography hobby. He is able to do so because his blindness is not total.

The facilities, trainers, and the dogs are all available only with the support of donations, specifically from the Lions Clubs in our communities. Roger and Layla are real-world examples of our fundraising and dedication at work, and the satisfaction of a "job well done" was definitely expressed at our meeting. We can only do these things with the help of volunteers, and we can only put those voluteers to use if they present themselves. We encourage anyone and everyone interested in learning more or participating to come visit us, contact us, come see how you can fit in.

Click Here to learn all about the Leader Dog program.

Email us at HorshamPALions@gmail.com for more information.

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