South Eastern Guide Dogs School, located on a well landscaped 23-acre campus nestled just off I-275 in rural Palmetto, Florida was the next stop on our itinerary. For this venture we met up with fellow Labrador breeder friends, Brent and Ardyn Brooks of Brooks Labradors(Texas) and Kathy Marr of Pikara Labradors (Virginia). We were there to learn more about their program. The staff at SEGD was warm and friendly and gave an excellent tour of the campus and operations. I was most anxious for them to meet and evaluate Ruby and Harley. The girls by this point had met so many people they were well prepared for all the ohs and ahs, not to mention they had tons of practice on how to solicit tummy rubs and cuddling from people. Even the experienced staff here that sees loads of puppies could not resist these two.
We brought Gillie, our young Ranger son, with us for their training teams to evaluate. The school has never used chocolates before in any of their work or breedings and I was hoping they would overcome their bias against the color after they met Gillie. I handed over the leash to their trainer not knowing quite what was in store for my boy, but confident he would do his best. Gillie has the characteristic of always trying to understand what you want and then trying hard to please. While the team whisked Gillie away to other parts of the campus, our contingency was taken just inside the front gate, where the intersection of Independence Drive and Freedom Way lies. It is bordered by a series of pathways known as the Freedom Walk where several trainers with well schooled guide dogs were waiting for us. Everyone in our group got blindfolded and was given the chance to walk the streets of the campus with a dog leading the way. The trainers were right there to help us with commands and obstacles that had been set up all over the place for training purposes. It is quite an experience to not be able to see and be out on a sidewalk. There are bumps and things in the walk you never notice until you can’t see them. Our dogs were wonderful though and kept us out of harm’s way on the entire walk.
In the meantime somewhere on the other side of the campus Gillie was put in a harness and tested through many types of distractions and obstacles. The trainers eventually returned to our group with Gillie and had glowing reports of his success. They were ready to keep him! The report to the breeding staff was good enough that Gillie is now being considered for breeding with some of the SEGD dogs. This is great news and something to look forward to. All in all we had a most enjoyable morning, but with young pups waiting for us at home we felt we needed to get on the road as soon as possible. The dogs wanted to stay and play some more, almost as though they realized the trip home would be long. But true to their nature they never complained as they loaded up for the marathon drive back to Harpers Ferry.