064 John and Elaine Berkheiser—Leader Dogs for the Blind
Updated: Apr 25
Raising Puppies and Opening Doors!
If you love dogs, you'll find kindred spirits in John and Elaine Berkheiser, who raise puppies (28 so far)—and give them away! The puppies ultimately go to work, serving persons who are blind, visually impaired, or blind-deaf.
How can the Berkheisers give them away? Each puppy accompanies them wherever they go—to stores, through parking lots, in cars, on busses, in hotels. Raising these puppies is a 24/7 job! Elaine admits that giving the dog up after their year together breaks their hearts. But...then comes the dog's graduation from the official training and the placement with the client. John and Elaine usually attend the ceremony and also take the occasion to meet the person who is receiving this furry opportunity for a more independent and fulfilling life. Many clients stay in touch, sending photos and notes of gratitude throughout the dog's service. With the bigger picture in mind, the couple begin again with a new puppy.
Founded by three Detroit-area Lions Clubs members in 1939, 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 to have closed with the loss of sight. The organization began with four dogs and now trains and places nearly 500 every year.
To carry out their mission, Leader Dogs relies on multiple volunteers. Leader Dog "moms" handle the breeding program—mostly Labrador and Golden Retrievers with a smattering of German Shepherds. Volunteers, like the Berkheisers, who started because their daughter raised a puppy as her 4H project, provide love, basic training, and the adventures that result in a confident, alert, and loving companion ready for the next level of training and ultimately for service.
The Berkheisers also volunteer as "puppy counselors," regularly visiting their network of other Leader Dog "puppy raisers," supporting and mentoring them. In addition, the organization provides manuals and training videos to assure that all involved—raisers and puppies—have a good experience, which will pay off in a greater quality of life for the client.
For persons receiving a dog, the placement training lasts 28 days. Leader Dogs also runs a summer camp for 16–17 year olds and a week-long "white cane" training. All of these services are free of charge to the recipients. If you know someone who is blind, visually impaired, or blind-deaf, either from birth or newly so, please encourage them to explore Leader Dog. A whole new life could be at the other end of the harness.
For more information or to explore volunteering with Leader Dogs for the Blind, visit leaderdog.org.
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