Members from the Tamaqua, West Penn, and McAdoo Lions Club held a Leader Dogs For The Blind (LDB) Program presentation during a joint meeting of the clubs held recently at the McAdoo Lions Club meeting location at the St Mary's Church in McAdoo.

Leader Dogs for the Blind Program representatives, Seeing Eye Program representatives, and puppy raisers were on hand with their dogs to talk about similar programs and the amount of dedication that is put into this program, and showing the skills the dogs possess.

Although the Lions Club International organizes a Leader Dogs For The Blind Program, representatives from the Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Program were on hand to provide visual displays of three of their seeing eye dogs and their trainers, also called puppy raisers.

West Penn Lions Club member and District Leader Dog Chairman Scott Dudley organized the LDB presentation. Dudley and Northampton County 4-H Puppy Raisers Club Youth Educator Danelle Mackavage spent a lot of time pointing out the purpose of the seeing eye dog programs and amount of dedication the trainers and their dogs put into it.

"It costs the program about $40,000 to put a single team (dog/owner) out. We provide these dogs and training free of charge," Dudley said.

The mission of the Lions – "We serve" – perfectly complements the Leader Dogs for the Blind mission of enhancing the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired.

The Leader Dogs for the Blind program is supported by the Lions Club, as well as other individuals, foundations, and corporations.

"With the Leader Dog Program, the focus is on the dog and not the person with the cane. This helps blind people to re-enter society without being afraid of being stared at," Dudley added.

Beginning with the support of one Lions Club in Detroit, LDB is now aided by Lions Clubs from all over the world, including our area.

The LDB program initially started in 1938 when Charles A. Nutting, Donald P. Schurr and S.A. Dodge led the Uptown Lions Club of Detroit in establishing a school to train dog guides for the blind. Their motivation was Dr. Glenn Wheeler, a fellow Uptown Lion whose attempts to be accepted by another dog guide school proved unsuccessful.

On April 4, 1939 Lions Leader Dog Foundation was incorporated as a Michigan nonprofit.

A month later, the foundation leased a small farm in Rochester, Michigan to house their new venture. For $50 per month, they rented a farmhouse for the students and staff, a barn for the dogs, and a garage.

On October 8 of that same year, the first class of the official Lions Leader Dog Foundation graduated.

The cost to graduate a student/dog team was $600. On June 15, 1940 the name "Leader Dog League for the Blind" became official.

The 1960's brought continued growth at LDB in terms of the number of students graduated, number of dogs trained and number of employees on staff.

In 1963, Lions International President Jorge Bird of Puerto Rico became involved with LDB when he brought a Spanish soldier, Francisco A. Garcia, who had been blinded by a shell explosion, to get a dog.

However, when the soldier returned to Spain, he received much press and General Franco became aware of him.

At this meeting, General Franco recognized the Lions as the group that "gave the dog to someone in Barcelona."

The association of Lions of Spain and Leader Dog continues to this day.

Throughout the 80s, 90s and into the 21st century, the Lions have acted as the backbone of Leader Dog Program. Lions Clubs throughout the world have supported the LDB and students financially.

They are puppy raisers, volunteers, breeding host families, and so much more. Many recipients of LDB services have become Lions after experiencing their support and mission first hand.

Any legally blind person in good health, at least 18 years of age and out of high school is eligible for a Leader Dog and training. Leader Dog will pay for students' travel to the school's campus. Every effort is made to accommodate medical conditions that might hinder blind students from attending the program.

Students attend the Leader Dog training program at no charge, including room and board. Classes last for 25 days.

The school conducts 12 sessions per year with about 24 students in each session.

Students live in comfortable dormitories with instructors on-site 24 hours a day.

Training is done outdoors several hours each day.

The student and dog teams progress through several levels of the training program. Training progresses from simple to more complex environments.

Before being paired with a student, Leader Dogs spend a minimum of four months in an intensive training program in a state-of-the-art kennel.

The Leader Dog candidates learn basic obedience and dog guide skills.

After completing the training, the student then receives his/her dog. This is also called Independence Day.

Dudley also talked about the Trekker Breeze Program for Dog Guide Students. Leader Dog provides a free Trekker Breeze to current students in the LDB dog guide program that live in the United States and Canada.

The Breeze is a simple-to-use, hand-held GPS that enhances dog guide travel by verbally announcing the names of streets, intersections and other clues.

For more information on becoming a local Leader Dog trainer, to inquire about being trained for a Leader Dog, or for more information, contact local District Leader Dog chairman Scott Dudley at (570) 386-2917 or via scottdudley@yahoo.com, or call your local Lions Club or the LDB admissions department at (800) 777-5332.

"Leader Dogs for the Blind has helped thousands of visually impaired people across the country team up with a dog," Dudley said. "Almost 250 dog-partner teams are created every year.

"A Leader Dog helps minimize the mobility challenges of blindness and may permit an individual to go where and when he or she would like without having to wait for a friend or relative.

"The specially trained dogs permit travel freedom, provide constant companionship, widen the scope for job opportunity, as well as providing a better way of independence."