2018-05-24 / Life in Leelanau

LEADER DOGS

‘Leelanau’ and other doggos prepare for life of leadership
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


FUTURE LEADER: “Leelanau,” a puppy in the Future Leader Dog program, is spending his first year with puppy raisers Steve and Mary Landry. He will learn his basic commands in preparation for formal Leader Dog training. If he successfully completes four levels of intensive training, Leelanau will be assigned to provide guide dog services to a client in need. FUTURE LEADER: “Leelanau,” a puppy in the Future Leader Dog program, is spending his first year with puppy raisers Steve and Mary Landry. He will learn his basic commands in preparation for formal Leader Dog training. If he successfully completes four levels of intensive training, Leelanau will be assigned to provide guide dog services to a client in need. A four-legged puppy named “Leelanau” could soon change someone’s life.

The 10-week-old German Shepherd puppy is officially known as a “Future Leader Dog” for the Leader Dogs for the Blind program. Leelanau is being raised by Steve and Mary Landry, annual visitors to the Leland area.

“Mary and I vacation every year in the Leelanau area and always love the shops and sites of Fishtown, a burger at Boone’s Prime Time Pub, and we always enjoy visiting the vineyards and sampling their wines,” Steve Landry said. “We were going to name the dog Leland because we love Fishtown, but Leelanau sounded more ‘Michigan.’ Everyone knows Leelanau. And I didn’t want to name him Fishtown.


PUPPY RAISERS Steve and Mary Landry named their current leader dog “Leelanau” after visiting Fishtown in Leland for many years. Leelanau will stay with the Landrys for about a year before receiving guide dog training. PUPPY RAISERS Steve and Mary Landry named their current leader dog “Leelanau” after visiting Fishtown in Leland for many years. Leelanau will stay with the Landrys for about a year before receiving guide dog training. “We are looking forward to this summer as we have several trips planned with our travel trailer. I am sure Leelanau, like all our other puppies, will enjoy our travels. With Leelanau, like the nine Future Leader Dog puppies we raised before him, we take him most everywhere we go. We will end our summer visiting our puppy’s namesake, Leelanau.”

Founded in 1939, Rochester-based Leader Dogs for the Blind empowers people who are blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind with skills for a lifetime of independent travel, opening doors that may seem closed due to a lack of sight. The puppies are raised for 11 to 14 months.

“We have to housebreak it, teach basic skills and socialize the puppy by taking it everywhere we go,” he said.

At the end of that time, the dog is returned to Leader Dog for guide dog training. This training takes another four to six months.

If successful, the dog will then be matched with a client.

“Only about 50 percent of dogs make it to a client after an intense physical exam and four levels of train- ing,” he said.

So do the puppy raisers get attached to the dogs they raise?

“Absolutely,” he said. “We get very attached. We love each one of them dearly. When we return the puppy, or then dog, our secret is to get another dog right away and put all of our focus on the new puppy. ... These dogs change lives forever. Our last dog, Charlevoix, went to Mexico. Leader Dogs are placed in every state as well as all over the world. My wife and I have also had Leader Dogs working in Texas, Spain and Montana.”

And they aren’t the only local connection to the Leader Dogs for the Blind program.

Kip and Ann Bond, part-time Empire residents until last year, have been involved with Leader Dogs for The Blind since 1990. The Bonds now live in Ortonville but miss Empire “very, very much.”

Ann Bond said she started as a “puppy raiser” and now serves as a host family for breeding stock dogs. She is also a mentor for other host families with female breeding stock.

Over the years, Bond has seen many outstanding dogs. One, however, provided a remarkable connection for her.

“Bentley” was the third puppy Bond raised for Leader Dogs. After completing his formal training, Bentley was assigned to help a client. Like the other puppies that had been given to clients, that was the last time Bond saw him.

“I didn’t know his whereabouts,” she said. “But a year later, we were doing a fundraiser for Leader Dogs and had pictures set up. A customer approached and saw a picture of her dad’s new dog on the board. We figured out it was Bentley.”

After making this connection, Bond had a chance to reunite with the puppy she had raised. Bentley and his new owner came to visit at her home.

“At that time, we had a litter of nine puppies,” she said. “Bentley walked around the playpen of puppies ... then he stopped and scratched under the cupboard. He found his favorite yellow ball under the cupboard that must have been there for two years.”

Bentley took the ball home with him that day, and Bond has kept in touch.

“Leader Dogs, in my opinion, are just the best of the best,” Bond said. “We have students coming in from all over the world.”

There is no charge for any of the programs and services offered by Leader Dogs for the Blind, including the Leader Dog, equipment, training, transportation to and from the Leader Dog Campus, and room and board for the 26 days a client spends on campus training with their dog.

It costs Leader Dogs about $45,000 to get a highly trained dog into the hands of a client. To date, nearly 15,000 dogs have been placed in all 50 states, as well as 39 different countries.

Funding comes from individual gifts, endowment interest and service organizations like the Lions Clubs. All three Leelanau County Lions Clubs support the program’s efforts with annual donations.

Northport Lions Club president Kent Shoemaker and Empire Lions Club president Doug Slessman both speak highly of Leader Dogs. “It’s a great program,” Shoemaker said. “We’ve supported them for decades.”

Want to get involved?

Anyone interested in raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind can get more information at leaderdog.org.

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