The Leader Dogs for the Blind guide dogs transported to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Guide Dogs in Ontario, Canada, June 1 include, from the left, Kiki, Rockette, Harper, Nova and Quebec. They are being handled by Jeff Stein, David Linares, Alyssa Ozrovitz, Heidi Vollrath and Monica Swanseger.

The Leader Dogs for the Blind guide dogs transported to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Guide Dogs in Ontario, Canada, June 1 include, from the left, Kiki, Rockette, Harper, Nova and Quebec. They are being handled by Jeff Stein, David Linares, Alyssa Ozrovitz, Heidi Vollrath and Monica Swanseger.

Photo provided by Leader Dogs for the Blind


Guide dog organizations partner to aid people who are blind amid COVID-19

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 27, 2021

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ROCHESTER HILLS — A global pandemic can’t stop the Leader Dogs for the Blind from assisting those who are blind or visually impaired, regardless of what country they reside in.

There are a number of guide dog organizations around the world, and all of them have been affected by the pandemic in one way or another, according to Leader Dogs for the Blind Chief Marketing Officer Dani Landolt.

“We, at Leader Dog, have found ourselves unable to serve the quantity of individuals that we typically serve. We’ve been able to serve some people on campus when COVID-19 numbers have dwindled, but then, of course, at the times that we have seen peaks, we have paused our on-campus training,” she explained. “We’ve always had our dogs to work with, but not as many people to whom to provide them.”

 The COVID-19 pandemic created a different crisis for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Guide Dogs in Ontario, Canada, which could not get dogs to train from their normal source.

The Canadian organization — which Landolt said is relatively new and has not yet established its own breeding program — reached out to Leader Dogs for the Blind for help for the first time in November 2020, and Leader Dogs agreed to supply it with five guide dogs.

“We had dogs that our instructors had continued to train throughout the pandemic, who we had deemed perfect in the process and had a really good potential to guide someone who was visually impaired,” said Landolt. “We really promote collaboration amongst guide dog organizations. We don’t see them as competition — we see them as an opportunity for us, working in concert with one another, to serve more people who are blind.”

The tricky part was figuring out how to get the dogs across the border between the United States and Canada, a border that has been closed to nonessential travel to slow the spread of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 21, 2020.

“Of course, the border was closed, so we worked with the transportation authority,” Landolt explained. “They pulled their van up to the Canadian border side, we pulled our van up to the United States side, and we really were able to transport and trade the dogs right there at the border, so they could take the dogs and complete their training and then deliver them to Canadians who are blind or visually impaired.”

Leader Dogs for the Blind donated an additional five dogs to the Canadian organization at their request in June.

Leader Dogs for the Blind Chief Operating Officer Lorene Suidan said Leader Dogs has a “high regard” for the CNIB Guide Dogs team and was happy to partner with them.

“We took a good look at our dogs in training, and we realized that we could send several dogs to Canada and still maintain our ability to serve our clients,” Suidan said in a statement.

Leader Dogs for the Blind typically serves clients in Canada, but Landolt said the organization has had to temporarily halt its services abroad while the borders are closed — a restriction that was slated to continue through July 21.

The Canadian guide dog organization returned the favor by training a Leader Dogs client in Ontario whose wait for a guide dog was lengthened due to the pandemic. Leader Dogs transferred one of its trained guide dogs to a CNIB Guide Dog mobility instructor, who officials said took the dog to the client and trained the duo to work together to Leader Dogs standards.

Leader Dogs President and CEO Susan Daniels said Leader Dogs is “a strong advocate” for cooperation among guide dog organizations.

“This collaboration is a great example of what can be accomplished, even during a global pandemic, when we come together to serve more people who are blind,” Daniels said in a statement. “After all, that is the end goal for all of us.”

For additional information, visit www.leaderdog.org.

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