On Wednesday, April 16, Hoffman employees, Maria Garcia and Susan Lane, met with the wonderful people of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation to tour their facility and get a glimpse into how the remarkable German Shepherd Guide Dogs are raised, trained and matched with blind clients.
Both Garcia and Lane had a first-hand experience to see what it is like to put complete trust in the dog. Both women were given a blindfold walk with Macey, Fidelco Guide Dog in Training. Macey navigated around obstacles on the course as well as up and over steps and curbs. One of many fascinating aspects of the training is that guide dogs must be taught to think that they are 6’ tall and 3’ wide so as not to lead their client under a low hanging branch or other object simply because the dog would be able to walk underneath. One of the obstacles was a bar set about 5’ high; Macey knew to bring Maria and Susan to the side rather than under the bar. “I have a greater appreciation for people who are blind and the trust they must have in their dog while walking around. My five-minute trust-walk doesn’t even come close to the daily living experiences of individuals with varying degrees of blindness, but it certainly gave me the opportunity to understand the importance of a trusting bond between guide dog and client,” stated Susan. “They are truly amazing dogs,” she continued, “The stories of people who benefit from the devotion and service of guide dogs are heartwarming. More people need to hear them – but, be sure to bring tissues and wear waterproof mascara.”
Fidelco’s roots reach back to 1960 when Charlie and Robbie Kaman took their love of German Shepherd dogs a step further into the possibilities of helping people who are legally blind. With the mission to “promote increased independence and mobility to men and women who are blind by providing them with the highest quality guide dogs,” this internationally-recognized guide dog organization has trained and matched nearly 1,400 guide dogs across the nation, in 41 states, with over 280 of them in Connecticut. They have reached lives as far north as five Canadian provinces.
Fidelco is the pioneer of “In-Community Placement” whereby a trainer personally transports the guide dog to their new client and works with the team for 3 weeks to ensure maximum success and limited stress for both the guide dog and client. Mutual trust is critical to success and having an intelligent and trustworthy dog is what Fidelco provides. Volunteers who serve as “puppy raisers” assist in the beginning stages of caring for these loyal and trustworthy servants. In partnership with the skilled trainers, the guide dogs of Fidelco reach the age of two with over 15,000 hours of hands-on training. Dogs learn to navigate through homes, streets, offices and more and are prepared to make decisions that will serve and protect their client. A term called “intelligent disobedience” is learned by these amazing animals to know when to make the choice to “disobey” their client who, unable to see an approaching vehicle, gives the command to proceed across a street. This exemplifies the amazing bond of trust.
Each guide dog serves an average of 10 years with clients. Fidelco provides lifetime client service with annual follow-up visits and 24/7 issue resolution. The direct costs in each dog is approximately $45,000 over the course of their training and service. In order to achieve their mission, Fidelco relies solely on donations from individuals, organizations and fund raising events. Fidelco is very efficient: 81% of their expenses provide Core Program services. The remaining 7% and 12% of expenses cover fundraising efforts and general administrative expenses (salaries, office maintenance, etc.). So, what is the cost to the client? Nothing, other than the routine care and feeding of their personal guide dog.
The Hoffman Auto Group is proud to support such a well-run organization that provides a valuable service to people who are blind resulting from military combat or natural causes.
Maria commented, “In a world of immediate gratification and convenience it is very easy to forget what’s important and what we should be grateful for every single day. What a reminder I got when I visited the Fidelco Headquarters! After participating in the blindfold walk, I have a newfound appreciation for the guide dogs and the trust clients put in their magnificent dogs. I was surprised how challenging it can be to give total trust to a dog, but what an absolutely rewarding one it was. The many lives the organization touches is heartwarming to witness. It is an honor to be a part of what this organization stands for.”
We encourage you to come see for yourself at the Fidelco Open House on Saturday, May 3, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at their campus in Bloomfield. This free event is ideal for families and people of all ages. Come tour the campus and enjoy the puppy, police K9 and Guide Dog demonstrations. Experience the blindfold walk with professional Fidelco Certified Trainers and Guide Dogs and learn what it means to “trust the dog.” Vision screenings by Lions Club members. Special Lions Club Appreciation reception to be held at noon. Event held rain or shine. For more information, visit www.fidelco.org Hoffman Auto Group, Fidelco, Macey and her “co-workers” look forward to seeing you there!