TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Southeastern Guide Dogs, located in Manatee County prepares pups to serve the visually impaired as well as veterans with PTSD and other disabilities. The organization’s latest training facility is making a big splash with its four-legged canine companions.
The Stephen and Marcia Miner Canine Aquatic Center, part of Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Canine Fitness Program, opened earlier this year, however, most of the future guide and service dogs in training haven’t been able to take a dip in its new pool until recently, due to COVID-19 and social distancing.
The pool isn’t meant for fun – although it certainly is! It’s meant for the long-term health of the guide and service dogs.
“Just like with humans, swimming is a fantastic exercise,” explains Jess D’Ambrosio, the Canine Fitness Center manager and certified canine rehabilitation technician. “It works all of your muscles, creates less stress on your body, and creates a stronger heart.”
The Canine Fitness Program is designed to increase the graduation success rate of the guide and service dogs, and enhance the long-term quality of their life.
“We find that most of our dogs are retiring around the age of 8 or 9, so if we can extend their career for a couple of years with their handler, we’ve done our job,” said D’Ambrosio.
Not all dogs dig swimming, and they aren’t forced to dive in if it’s not their thing. Southeastern Guide Dogs recently unleashed another option for those not ready to tackle the deep end.
“If they’re not a big fan of the pool, we’ll actually try the underwater treadmill, because surprisingly a lot of the dogs that don’t like the pool or aren’t too comfortable with it will get in the underwater treadmill just fine,” D’Ambrosio said.
The Aquatic Center is the latest addition to Southeastern Guide Dogs’ physical training facility, which includes an indoor dog gym and agility course. A new building under construction and expected to open mid-2021 will feature a hyperbaric chamber, similar to those used by pro athletes.
Southeastern Guide Dogs relies on private donations and volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering, or donation options, visit the organization’s website at this link: www.guidedogs.org/
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