PALMETTO, FL (WFLA) — If puppy kisses and tail-wagging sound like your idea of a great afternoon, then this is a Great Getaway for you. Southeastern Guide Dogs is the only accredited guide dog school in the Southeast, and it is located in Palmetto, FL. At the 35-acre facility, they breed and train dogs for specific jobs.
Many of the dogs will be Seeing Eye Dogs and be partnered with visually-impaired people to help give them an independent life. Other dogs will be part of the Paws for Patriots program, and they will become therapy dogs for people with Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) or work at a VA hospital.
Since it was founded in 1982, Southeastern Guide Dogs has matched over 2,800 guide dogs with students, and its dogs are in all 50 states and Canada. An important part of the dogs’ training is socialization, and that’s where you and your family can help. Each person who visits the dogs brings a different scent, action and behavior into its training.
“They get the full exposure of what happens in the real world,” said Nancy Cottrell, a volunteer and tour guide at Southeastern Guide Dogs.
There are two ways someone can become a part of the training for the day. At 9am and 10am on most days, you can sign up online to be part of the puppy-hugging session. It costs $10 a person for the half-hour session, and you get to play with the puppies that are a certain age. They need to be old enough for their immune system to be strong, but not quite into most rigorous part of their training. Each session is limited to 20 people.
Another way to get to know these dogs is to tour the facility. Each day (except Sunday) at 10:15am, one of the volunteers gives a guided tour of the campus. “We bring our ambassador dogs, so there’s petting and loving going on right from the beginning,” said Cottrell.
The tour also costs $10 a person, and it takes you through the stages of the dog’s training. During the tour, you walk through the specially-designed dog trail. Along this trail, the dogs will encounter many different surfaces including rocks, railroad tracks and bridges. These surfaces mimic what the dog will face as it leads the visually-impaired person through life.
This Great Getaway is for a great cause, and it’s a great way to introduce animals to children. If you schedule a puppy-hugging session and the guided tour on the same day, it will cost you $20 per person. A family of four will get a morning full of puppy love for $80.