Updated 04/13/2012 08:07 PM
Non-profit celebrates 20 years of providing furry freedom for the blind
Freedom Guide Dogs in Cassville trained and placed six guide dogs with blind individuals in its first year of operation. That was back in 1992. Since then, hundreds of people across the northeast have gained four-legged companions through the non-profit. Sarah Blazonis gives us a look inside the organization and introduces us to its latest trainees.
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ONEIDA COUNTY, N.Y. -- One group of five-week-old black lab puppies living in Cassville don't know it, but they're destined for a life of being more than man's best friend. They're going to be Freedom Guide Dogs.
"They get them out and about. They get them mobile again. They can be independent," said Nicole White, director of development for the guide dog school about what they'll mean to their future blind companions.
The school was founded 20 years ago by a husband and wife team with a passion for training dogs for the blind.
Employees say taking on the task of guiding their owners through life is something these dogs are born into. While golden retrievers, smooth-coated collies and even poodles have been trained, most of Freedom's graduates are labs.
"They're good learners, they aim to please. It's just in their breed," said White. "And they're easily adapted to different situations."
The next step for the puppies is being placed with a foster family for the important step of socialization. After about a year and a half, that's when the training will begin.
And trained dogs are in high demand. There are 25 people on Freedom's waiting list right now and it takes about a year and a half after applying to receive a dog. Officials say it's easy to understand their popularity.
"They don't have to rely on others anymore and that alone is more than I could ever say for them," said White.
Even those who might not make the cut as a guide dog still could have a future helping people. Sue O'Neil, who came to visit the puppies, says she used to own a released guide dog.
"He was supposed to be a guide dog, but he had some health issues and so I used him as a therapy dog for several years. We went to schools and nursing homes and libraries," said O'Neil.
So whatever the future holds for these guys, one thing is clear: They'd better get all the rest they can because soon they'll be on the go.
For more information about Freedom Guide Dogs, visit, www.freedomguidedogs.org.