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Guide dog training group needs SWFL-based puppy raisers

A nonprofit is helping those who served our country who are now having a tough time adjusting back to civilian life. An organization is responding nationwide as well as parts of Southwest Florida. We received an exclusive look at the training process for the group’s animals that help enhance the lives of others.

Southeastern Guide Dogs helps veterans experiencing PTSD as well people living with vision loss. These are people in situations where a guide dog could enrich their lives and help them navigate the world around them.

Coordinators for the nonprofit are responding to parts of Charlotte County to provide dogs to those who can greatly benefit. The dogs support people from all over the U.S. It includes veterans and many other community members.

Keebler, the guide dog, helps Jim Rigg see the world, since he sees it much differently than many people.

“They don’t have a technical term for what I have,” Rigg explained. “I was declared blind in 1993 … I see better out of the side of my eyes. I’m not totally blind.”

Keebler’s job is to help Rigg get around.

“He will stop and notify me that we got to stop, something’s not right,” Rigg said. “I’m a little more at ease.”

Southeastern Guide Dogs trained Keebler and continues to grow. As its mission spreads across the country, it needs more families to help train other dogs to become four-legged superheroes.

“We have people who need puppies nationwide, so we’re trying to recruit more puppy raisers,” said Marylynn Caruso, a puppy raiser area coordinator for Southeastern Guide Dogs. The group is looking for more volunteer puppy raisers in the Punta Gorda area. “We have great places to train. We have the airport. We have downtown Punta Gorda.”

“We do basic training. We get them familiar with home environment, being loved, being touched,” said Patti Higgins, a volunteer puppy raiser with Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Then, the dogs go to puppy college, where they will specially learn how to to help someone visually impaired or a veteran with PTSD

Anyone interested in volunteering can visit the Southeastern Guide Dogs website for more information. To submit an application for a dog email [email protected] to connect with Caruso in Punta Gorda.

“It’s a commitment that you’re going into knowing you’re going to give this dog to someone who really needs it,” Caruso said. “Just probably giving you your freedom.”

“Just probably giving you your freedom,” said Rigg.

Reporter:Erika Jackson
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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