Becky Wynn, a Michigan resident who was introduced to the Lamar Lions Club luncheon by Gordon Guihen, provided some behind-the-scenes information about the Leader Dogs for the Blind program; a Lion’s sponsored organization, during the Lamar Lion’s weekly meeting, February 10th. Wynn, who describes herself as a volunteer puppy raiser, was visiting in Lamar with Lansing, her current canine student.
“Since 1938, the national Lion’s Club has been funding the Leader Dogs program,” she explained, stating that the Lions contribute 20% of the group’s funding which has interests in Italy, Canada, South America and the U.S. As well as training the dogs into service-oriented animals, the Leader Dog program also develops schools where dogs can be trained. “Lansing is the 6th puppy I’ve trained and we were brought together when he was seven weeks old and he’ll be with me until he’s one year. He’ll receive basic obedience, house training, socialism skills and a few of the more general specialty skills before he goes for more specific lessons for another four to eight months,” she added. The final training aspect comes when the client and the dog live and train together for about a month in special apartments at the Rochester Hills training site. Wynn stated that 80% of the breeds used are Labs, followed by Golden Retrievers at 15% and German Shephard dogs.
The donations from the Lions play an integral part of financing the Leader Dog program. Wynn noted that the costs for training 77 years ago were $50 a month for clients, dogs and staff. The total cost back then was $600 for the client who was not charged for the services. Today, the same training costs $48,000. Not all dogs make the grade. She said only a percentage can go all the way to become a service dog for the blind, including being able to determine when to override their master’s intentions. “This is called selective obedience,” Wynn explained, “And it’s crucial to learn in that, if their master is making a wrong decision, such as walking in front of a car they can’t recognize, the Leader dog is trained to put themselves in front of the person until the danger to them has passed. Not every dog is able to achieve this level of performance.” She added that these animals still perform very essential services such as fire department or police work, cadaver detectors, K9 Search and Rescue or National Forest Service Avalanche Patrol.
Some prisoners are also used as puppy trainers with 450 total trainers of which 200 are in prisons from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. “The prisoners actually have a 10% better graduation rate than civilians,” Wynn explained, “probably because there are fewer distractions in a prison, but the ratio is about 52% graduated on the outside and 62% inside a prison.” She thanked the Lamar branch of the Lions organization for affording her the opportunity to explain how the program is conducted and for the donations that have been made to Leader Dogs for the Blind over the past decades.
Additional thanks were offered during the meeting, including a local ‘thank you’ to Lea Comer from Ken Callison and Dick Ramsay who have been instrumental in developing numerous household goods donations to the residents at the Ft. Lyons Residential Center in Las Animas for the past two years. “Lea Comer has been knitting woolen caps for the residents for quite a while and to date, she has contributed almost 600 of them to Ft. Lyon,” Lion’s Club President, Leroy Mauch, explained.
He added, “She takes different sized pieces of yarn of all colors and gets to work each week and produces all these caps for them.” Materials can be dropped off at the collection center at the Rodeway Cow Palace Inn. “Lea comes in and gathers them and comes back to us weeks later with another batch for donations,” he stated. Comer told the audience, “I’ll just take more yarn when you have it,” when she was presented with a certificate of appreciation.
Several guests were recognized by the Lions during the meeting, including Angie Cue, Lamar’s new Community Development Coordinator, who began her position in early January. Cue, a Lamar native, said she’s happy to return to her hometown community. She and her husband recently became homeowners in town and both are happy to begin her new career with their recent move to the community.
By Russ Baldwin
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