Special pups in search of special people

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Guide dog group teams with Daiquiri Deck for recruitment of raisers

By John Morton

The Daiquiri Deck has gone to the dogs. Literally.

This summer, as the Siesta Key business considered making the Southeastern Guide Dogs its charity for the year, the restaurant took a handful of employees up to Palmetto to meet several of the dogs at the organization’s compound.

“We were looking for a charity that aligned with our same morals, goals and culture and we found it with the guide dog program. So, we wanted to see the background of it all in person so we could properly promote it and talk from experience,” Amber Halt, the Daiquiri Deck marketing director, said. “We had a great time visiting them.”

Trish Gorry with Sophia, a guide dog ambassador with Southeastern Guide Dogs. (photo by John Morton)

With a meaningful meet-and-greet behind it, the business helped celebrate National Guide Dog month in September by establishing a “round-up” fundraiser where it asked patrons to round up their bill with the extra money going to the Southeastern Guide Dogs. The goal was $50,000, with all five Daiquiri Deck locations participating. Two of them are on Siesta Key – one in the Village and one near the south bridge.

Then, the dogs returned the favor by visiting Daiquiri Deck’s Stickney Point Road location on Sept. 24 to show off several puppies and promote the need for volunteers to help raise them. The dogs strolled around the restaurant’s outdoor patio area, enjoying the soft artificial grass.

It also gave them the chance to socialize with people and introduce them to new sounds and environments, helping them practice their skills.

Ruth Schoch of Osprey was there with Venice, her seventh puppy she has trained to become a guide dog. What has been rewarding about her involvement?

“Well, there’s the unconditional love you get from these dogs,” she said of her experience. “Then there’s knowing what a difference they make in someone’s life when you’re done.”

And she says a puppy raiser is seldom “done” for good. She’s Facebook friends with many of her recipients, seeing her dogs in action through their posts, and Schoch even visited in Connecticut a dog she passed along to someone in need.

“A dog I raised was even placed with a neighbor of mine around the corner,” Schoch said. “So, I get to see him all the time.”

The breeds that are synonymous with becoming guide dogs are golden retrievers, Labradors, standard poodles, German shepherds, and retriever/lab mixes.

“They learn so quickly,” Schoch said of her canine students. “They’re like sponges.”

Trainers receive puppies at eight weeks and attend a weekly class that can be done in-person or remotely. Once the program is completed, they receive their special vest that signifies their role.

“It’s so wonderful to know you’re helping to develop a future hero,” Schoch said.

Beyond the sight-impaired, which is the traditional role, guide dogs also assist/service children’s programs, people with PTSD, Gold Star families (who lost a member during active military service), and even perform specialty jobs such as sniffing for COVID-19, illegal drugs, and arson.

Trish Gorry is the puppy-raising recruiter for Southeastern Guide Dogs. What kind of person makes a good puppy raiser?

“Someone who’s outgoing and patient,” she said. “You don’t need any experience, just a lot of love and the time to give to the dogs.”

And there’s a need for more people willing to get involved.

“We’ve got 20 to 25 new dogs coming in, so if we can find that number of people we’d be in good shape,” Gorry said.

Another good source of information is Jeanne Heere, a longtime guide dog raiser who sells shell-themed gifts each Sunday morning at the farmers market in the Village with Ted E. Bear, a former guide dog, at her side. She said she’s happy to provide details about the program for those who visit her booth.

Or, visit guidedogs.org.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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