Fidelco talk focuses on role of puppy trainers

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Mon., Mar. 3, 2014
Dave Rutherford, of Coventry, is an official Puppy Raiser for Connecticut Fidelco Guide Dog. He and 7-month-old Harper visited Stafford Library as part of a presentation on the need for puppy raisers, hosted by the Stafford Lions Club. Harper enjoys some petting by 6-year-old Henry, who attended with his parents. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Dave Rutherford, of Coventry, is an official Puppy Raiser for Connecticut Fidelco Guide Dog. He and 7-month-old Harper visited Stafford Library as part of a presentation on the need for puppy raisers, hosted by the Stafford Lions Club. Harper enjoys some petting by 6-year-old Henry, who attended with his parents. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

Getting lost in thought while taking a walk is one of the many freedoms most sighted people take for granted. Feeling safe and confident in a new environment is another.

Partnering with a Fidelco Guide Dog can bring this kind of freedom and independence into the life of a person who was born without sight or lost his or her vision later in life due to injury or disease.

A group of about 20 local residents learned about the process of breeding, training and placing these unique dogs at a Fidelco Guide Dog presentation hosted by the Lions Club of Stafford on Feb. 19 at the Stafford Library.

As the evening’s speaker, Connecticut Fidelco-Lions liaison Kris Fletcher, pointed out, "Our missions parallel each other… the Lions do a lot to improve the quality of life for people with vision impairment."

Stafford Lions member Rick Dewey explained that, beginning in the 1920s – when Helen Keller challenged the Lions in Chicago to do so – this service organization has created several programs that benefit those with limited or no vision, and that proactively support vision health, such as vision screening programs for young children.

At the Feb. 19 event, Stafford Lions member Kitty Schooley presented Fletcher with a check from the Lions for $200 to support Fidelco’s programs.

It costs $45,000 to raise, train and place a Fidelco dog with a client, who also receives intensive training on how to work with their dog.

Typically, a dog will work for 10 years.

Volunteers who initially take the puppies into their homes to be socialized (officially called Puppy Raisers) and clients receive ongoing support until the dog is retired.

Puppy Raisers receive food, veterinary care and even free boarding services when they go on vacation and cannot bring the puppy with them.

The puppies are placed in homes when they are about six months old. When they are 16 months old, they return to Fidelco for more training with a matched client.

Puppy Raisers are expected to take the dogs with them wherever they go, so that they become accustomed to all the different kinds of environments and situations their future owner may encounter.

"The law says guide dogs can go anywhere you and I go, although it should be age-appropriate – you wouldn’t take a 10-week-old puppy to the mall, for example. But it’s critical that the puppies get this basic training," Fletcher said.

Puppy Raiser Dave Rutherford, of Coventry, brought his charge, 7-month-old Harper, to the Stafford Library. Harper is the second puppy he’s training; his first one was returned in January to be placed with a client.

Rutherford said he takes Harper to work with him at AT&T, where he works in fiber optics, and one of the things the puppy is getting used to is riding in elevators.

When these dogs are matched with a client, both are trained in the client’s own neighborhood.

Fidelco dogs – all German shepherds – are bred for certain characteristics. Those who don’t “pass” usually find a new career. The more “driven” ones, Fletcher said, may be trained as police K-9s, while others may become search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs and even pets for their original Puppy Raiser.

Fidelco relies entirely on donations. Currently a group of Stafford High School seniors are raising funds for a March bowling tournament benefit. SHS senior Justine Wilson attended the library presentation to learn more about the group she’s been fundraising for and said she was impressed with how much the organization does for the Puppy Trainers and the clients.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer puppy raiser, contact Kris Fletcher at kfletcher@fidelco.org, call her at 860-243-5200, or visit www.fidelco.org.

The public also is invited to visit Fidelco headquarters at its annual open house, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, at 103 Vision Way in Bloomfield, Conn. There will be campus tours, demonstrations by guide dogs and police K-9s, and an opportunity to experience working with a guide dog on a blindfolded walk.

To learn more about membership in the Stafford Lions, visit their website at www.staffordlions.org.


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