A True Philanthropist
Lessons from a Six Year Old
Having worked in the nonprofit sector for my entire career, I‘ve
had the opportunity to get to know many wonderful, giving
people. And though it is true that every donor, every volunteer is
important to keep a nonprofit moving forward, periodically you
meet someone that touches your heart a little bit deeper.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sending the following thank you
letter to a very special young man.
Thank you for your generous contribution of $5.00 to Leader
Dogs for the Blind which we received on 6/18/2008.
We know you truly worked hard at keeping your teeth
brushed and healthy so that the tooth fairy could give you so
much money. The tooth fairy is very happy that you chose to help
someone who cannot see find a dog, instead of buying sweets.
By your simple act of giving you are helping to change the life
of real people, in real ways. On behalf of all the students here at
Leader Dogs for the Blind, thank you so much.
Gregory Grabowski, President & CEO
Now that makes me feel good.
Throughout this issue of Update you will read stories about the
various ways people support us – whether a major donation, an
event host, a puppy raiser, or a child giving their tooth fairy
money – we find our supporters to be motivated, and motivating.
Marching Forward with Major
By Joey Skinn - Guest Writer
Left, left, left, right, left is the new beat that Ruben Ortiz-Rivera
and his Leader Dog ―Major‖ march to now. It is a match made in
Doggie Heaven. When the two bunk buddies returned home to the
dog-friendly state of Vermont, they brought with them their heart-
felt experience at Leader Dog and excitement for their new
Ruben was born with degenerative myopia, which starts out
with simple myopia, or near-sightedness, and gets progressively
worse over time. In February of 2006 Ruben was declared legally
blind. When asked how he was dealing with his vision loss, he
replies, ―It‘s a challenge.‖ However, he quickly adds that it‘s not
going to stop him from moving on with his life. ―I am going sailing
next week along with camping and rock climbing in the future.‖
As for his new best friend, Major is a strapping 23 month old
German Shepherd that seems as though he was born specifically
to lead and work with his very athletic owner. Major has adjusted
very well to his new life in Vermont where he was immediately
accepted by Ruben‘s coworkers at the Vermont Center for
Independent Living. ―Everybody loves him and he is doing great.‖
Major has worked his way into all aspects of Ruben‘s life. As a
power lifter, runner, and avid swimmer, Ruben spends his share of
time at the gym. As for Major, ―He loves the gym,‖ says Ruben, ―it
is one of his favorite parts of our day.‖
Leaving Leader Dog at the end of training was a bittersweet
moment for Ruben because he enjoyed the ability and opportunity
to spend time with other people who are blind. Commenting on
the school itself, Ruben says, ―You can tell they work with a high
sense of professionalism. It really shows. I‘ll never forget my time
at Leader Dog, especially the first time Major and I walked
Letters from our Alumni
To Leader Dog:
My trip to Leader Dog was really special. The team at Leader
Dog was outstanding. Every detail was well-planned, the
philosophy was well-thought, and the people were so friendly and
committed. It was a pleasure. I‘ve spent lots of time wondering
how I could be part of such a great organization. I am envious of
your opportunities. The Trekker information was something that I
can use immediately and with the incredible instruction that you
provided I am ready to focus on students and their potential as
dog guide users.
I had visited another dog guide school but did not understand
the complexity of the training and the amazing skill these dogs
possess until my Leader Dog visit. I am going home and contact
my local Lion‘s Club friends to thank them for their support of
your awesome program. Thank you and your team for such an
educational, informative and useful seminar. I will be
recommending Leader Dog to my students. You‘ve made believers
of all of the Orientation & Mobility Specialists that participated this
Anita Medley (O&M Instructor)
To Leader Dog:
I came to Leader Dog for the first time in October of 2002 to
get my first Leader Dog, a standard poodle named King. What an
enjoyable experience. The staff was great, the training was great
and the food was fantastic.
I never knew that a dog could make such a difference. Thank
you Leader Dog for the free gift.
I also got my Trekker and training from Leader Dog – another
hard working, great group of people.
He was my eyes to the world
For eight wonderful years
Not an hour goes by now
Without sadness and tears.
Baxter the Leader Dog
Was a true and loyal friend
He guided me through the world
Until the very end.
Since the day I met my Baxter
My life was turned around
With him I regained my self-confidence
And independence I soon found.
Baxter was an ambassador
He was always the star of the show
I give my thanks to Baxter
For the gift of many people I know.
But his memory will linger
And his spirit will always be a part
Of the fabric of my existence
And of my thankful heart.
For all he has done for me
For being my very eyes
I‘ll continue to give thanks each day
As I look into the skies.
I hope I will meet my Baxter
One day in heaven above
When I can throw my arms around him
And once again shower him with love.
‗Til then I will keep him close in my heart
This Leader Dog who was my sight
And every ray that shines from now on
I know will be Baxter‘s Light.
His love and warmth and kindness and care
His soul is the very best of spring
I know he is in a better place now
And he has his angel wings.
Hello to all,
I want to express my sincere THANK YOU for the recent
accelerated mobility training you gave to my father, Butch Keister.
When my mother, Clara, and I picked him up, I could not believe
the confidence he had gained in just a few days of training. He
enjoyed all the staff, volunteers, and other students and had only
positive comments about his experience there.
He is always willing to go places now and I am extremely
happy with his progress. Again, on behalf of me and my whole
family, thank you for what you do for the visually impaired!
Taking on the Road with LaRue
By Andrea Applebee - Guest Writer
In the mornings, she is so sleepy with me, and once awake, so
happy to be alive, so ready for breakfast. During the fall term, we
started walking to school together—about a forty-minute walk,
mostly through the park—and walking home. This provides a kind
of rhythm to our days and she knows as we head off, where we
are going, and when we come home, that it will almost certainly
be dinner and play time. I have found that having a sense of
rhythm, sticking to specific habits, has been fundamental in our
I moved here to Pittsburgh last August with LaRue (after
training with her in July), for my first year in a MFA (Master of
Fine Arts) program at the University of Pittsburgh. With my
sweetheart, Joshua, we learned new routes and habits, the shape
of our apartment, the possibilities and sidewalks and favorite
places of our neighborhood, Squirrel Hill. We have also met
several of the squirrels here, which we are perpetually
remembering are not interesting. We have begun thinking, for the
most part, in the first person plural.
Once at school, LaRue knows which five flights of stairs to take
to my office, and after some preparing, which way to go to teach,
or to take a class. When I teach, she sleeps in the front of the
room and my students speak gently to her. Around midday she
helps me walk the blocks to meet up with Joshua and find the
swimming pool; she waits on deck concernedly watching us move
through the water; she helps me meet up with Joshua afterwards
for lunch. She has become extremely skilled at finding Joshua.
We have not been all habit, though, and things are not always
easy even with her. A number of times unfriendly dogs have
snarled and yapped and jumped at her, on and off of leashes, and
being sensitive, it has taken time with kind dogs, and patience for
her not to want to avoid dogs we encounter on the street. And I
have had bad days, when I seem to always mix up left and right,
and she has bad days, too, when she seems distracted, confused.
But not too often, and after one of these days we can laugh and
know a little more about each other. Several times she has saved
me from what otherwise would have been awful situations. Just
last week as I crossed a street a driver, doing something illegal,
would have hit me had she not stopped me firmly.
When she works, she takes herself and the rest of things very
seriously. Her confidence and professional demeanor often
surprises people who initially feel uneasy about having a dog
inside. She works hard and she is tired at the end of a long day.
And she is very sensitive; the world seems to meet her in its
variations with a great intensity. If I fuss with her for
misbehaving, she is sad for a long time in another room. And if
we have a very stressful day, she needs to rest. But always she
has a sweetness and intelligence about her that has brought a
kind of lightness to many parts of my life.
LaRue has mastered looking beautiful. Everyone speaks to her—
and always kindly. I noticed even while I was training with her at
Leader Dog that the trainers had a special voice for LaRue, a bit
softer. She is very sensitive. People approach me who would
never otherwise have the pretext, always beginning with how
beautiful, how well-behaved, how sweet-faced, how dignified, and
poised, how fine, how graceful a dog she looks. Children and
adults kiss and coo, giggle and point at her. Of course I am proud
of her, but I have almost stopped hearing them. One of the
greatest difficulties, after adjusting to everyone knowing and
wondering about my vision, is getting people to recognize that she
is not a pet, for always petting, that she cannot be distracted
while she works.
If we get home early, or have the day off, she spends a lot of
time laying on the windowseat with her nose out of the window,
waiting for Joshua to come home. If I am trying to write or mark
papers, she will bring me her toys, one by one, until she has
succeeded in distracting me. In her sleep, she dreams, and it is
the only time I hear her little yip and growl, very soft. In these
ways, she is my companion as well as my guide.
We have been in cars to all sorts of places, and buses, a train to
New York City, planes, and in a canoe to go blueberry picking. She
has been to the opera, many concerts and lectures. She has met,
and grown fond of my twin sister‘s yellow lab Leader Dog,
Mitchell. Relying on LaRue, who loves and is alive and gets weary,
and tries very hard, has been an adventure, a gift.
Puppies of the Caribbean
21st Annual Puppy Day
Is there a better way to spend a day than being surrounded by
150 puppies and dogs? We don‘t think so – and neither do our
puppy raisers. Even the sometimes rainy weather couldn‘t
dampen the fun on June 28th when over 300 puppy raisers and
breeding stock host families converged on the Leader Dog campus
for a day of meeting, greeting and learning.
Puppy raisers from as far away as Wisconsin and Nebraska had
the chance to learn more about how to properly raise a Leader
Dog puppy. Leader Dog instructors took the puppies through an
obstacle course of stairs, doors and distractions to identify areas
where a little extra attention from their raiser may be helpful. Deb
Donnelly, a skilled dog trainer and long-time puppy counselor
(currently raising her 14th puppy), held classes demonstrating
training tips specifically suited to each stage in a puppy‘s
The puppy department holds this event yearly because they
know first hand how important continued support and training are
when raising a Leader Dog puppy. Everyone in the department
was a puppy raiser before working at Leader Dog. Between them,
they‘ve raised 43 puppies, housed 7 breeding stock dogs and have
over 123 years of dog training experience. As a group, they
oversee about 400 puppies in 20 states each year. That‘s a lot of
food, vet visits, long nights, puppy breath and love.
The following is an excerpt from Leader Dog Alumnus Lori
Dent’s speech to the puppy raisers:
Imagine having a child born that only weighs 1 pound 10
ounces. I was that baby.
Because of my small size, I required extra oxygen to survive.
Some of the doctors believed the extra oxygen resulted in my
coming home with very little vision. In December of 1995, I ended
up with a detached retina in my right eye and had my first of four
eye surgeries on Christmas Eve. After that, glasses were no longer
of any use to me.
Even though I‘m able to use a cane, I dislike cane traveling. I
always feel like people are watching me. I hate the fact that it
takes longer to take any walks. But the first time I took hold of
the harness and started walking with a dog, I knew that a dog
guide was for me; that ‗test drive‘ gave me the chance to see the
difference between using a cane and having a living companion
With Leo, my current Leader Dog, I feel more confident to
travel, and I‘m no longer dependent on other people to get out to
the store or to pick up a prescription. When we walk into CVS, Leo
will take me to the pharmacy, or to the cash register. It all
depends on what command I give him.
There have been times when I thought it was safe to cross the
street and gave Leo the ―forward‖ command. Leo wouldn‘t let me
cross because he saw a car that was making a turn in front of us.
Leo won‘t move until the car has passed. He‘ll place himself in
front of me anytime he‘s aware of a car around me that could
possibly move. He will not let me put myself into any type of an
What goes into the making of a good dog guide? Of course, it‘s
the training these dogs receive here at Leader Dog. If it weren‘t
for the dedicated and caring staff at the school, none of the dogs
would be able to do the job they do.
But before the dogs come to the school, they need someone to
help them make the transition from a puppy to a well-behaved
young dog. And that‘s where you, the puppy raisers, come in.
Every one of you is aware of the sacrifices you make; the time
you spend helping those young pups become ready to go to school
to complete their training, the tears you shed when you return
those young dogs to the school. And then, against all logic, you go
and do it again. Without the start you give those pups they
wouldn‘t be ready to go into training, and eventually become a
full-fledged Leader Dog.
Leo has become such an important part of my life. There isn‘t a
day goes by that I don‘t find a reason to love my dog, and to
thank both Linda, Leo‘s puppy raiser, and Leader Dog for
providing me with such a terrific guide and companion.
As the saying goes ―it isn‘t what you give up, it‘s what you
give.‖ You, the puppy raisers, give every handler a sense of
independence and freedom that we could not experience without
you. And for that, I say thank you.
Third-Party Fundraising Events
Big or Small, We Love Them All
Raising awareness and funds is vital to continuing the excellent
work taking place at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Empowering the
public to be part of this process is both exciting and productive. A
third-party event is an event that is hosted by a group (or
individual) other than Leader Dogs for the Blind. These events
range in size and complexity with the common thread of
promoting the mission of Leader Dog.
Wanting to help is an important first step in executing a third-
party event. Think about what you do for fun and build your event
around this activity. If your event takes place in a familiar setting,
you can concentrate your efforts on the purpose of the event
instead of the venue. For example, if a group enjoys eating
together, organize a cook-off with an entry fee and designate a
portion of the proceeds to benefit Leader Dog. Or plan a euchre
tournament charging a small ―per hand fee‖ which becomes your
Some third-party events are much larger. Every year Murray‘s
Auto Parts raises funds during Detroit AutoRama and the
Woodward Dream Cruise. They run carnival games and donate all
proceeds to Leader Dog. So, big or small, all 3rd Party events are
We are here to help with advice and suggestions on event
planning. We can promote your event on our web site, supply
promotional material and possibly schedule a Leader Dog speaker
or ―puppy in training‖ to attend your event. We will do our best to
accommodate your needs.
Guidelines and information can be found on our website at
leaderdog.org/donate/events or you can call Jane Porter, Donor
Relations Specialist at 248-650-7110 ext. 1196.
―When the Grand Tour started over 10 years ago, most of the
volunteers participated because they enjoyed riding their personal
watercraft. It didn‘t take long for everyone to realize the Grand
Tour is much more than riding a ‗jet-ski‘ for three days on the
beautiful, yet unpredictable, waters of Lake Michigan. Each year,
we learn more about the work of Leader Dog and better
understand the impact we are making on peoples lives –— most of
whom we‘ll never meet.
The Grand Tour continues to be successful due to the
commitment of many people giving their time and money, and
challenging themselves both physically and mentally as they press
on for a greater cause. We are delighted to partner with such a
wonderful organization. Our goal is to continue to support the
work of Leader Dog for many years to come.‖ - Michael Labelle
Bowling for Leader Dog
―The Rochester Eagles pride themselves in raising money for local
and national charities. We wanted to donate our profits from our
Bowling Fundraiser to a local charity ... and what better charity
than Leader Dogs for the Blind! Leader Dog is a wonderful and
much respected organization and most of the participants of the
fundraiser said they donated money because of the organization
that was receiving the funds. The Rochester Eagles will definitely
make this an annual fundraiser and hope to raise more money
Thank you for your assistance with our fundraiser. I look
forward to working with Leader Dog again next year.‖ - Michelle
Wilkins, Rochester Eagles #2634
Learning about the Deaf-Blind Program
On the evening of June 12th, something special happened in the
pavilion at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Mike Reese and Karen
Bailey, two students in our deaf-blind program, were guests at our
major donor event. The evening turned out as close to perfect as
anyone could hope.
With the aid of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter,
Karen shared that she is a student at Galudent College in
Washington D.C. where she will soon receive her PhD. Coming to
Leader Dog fulfills a dream she has had for many years. Karen has
every expectation that she and her Leader Dog ―Piston‖ will
breeze through the streets of D.C. and that her life will be
immensely enhanced with him at her side.
Mike spoke next with his Leader Dog ―Noelle‖ closely at his side.
After suffering through several groans when he informed the
group that he worked for the IRS, he went on to speak of the
greater independence he will have with Noelle. The group will
remember Mike for his beautiful smile and obvious zest for life.
As the night wound down, other dog guide students joined the
party which was a great experience for the students and donors
alike. We were all thankful for good weather, but a thunderstorm
probably wouldn‘t have put a damper on this great evening.
―I have been privileged and honored to be a volunteer and give
my time to Leader Dog. On this special night, I attended the deaf-
blind program with my husband David who had never been to this
amazing place before. He was touched and awed by all that he
learned and experienced at Leader Dog that evening. He wouldn‘t
stop talking about this organization and how thrilled he was that
he had the opportunity to be a part of the event – that he wants
to donate financially to this wonderful cause.‖ – Dawn Karagosian
―I was deeply moved by the entire evening. It was an honor
being in the presence of the students, Karen and Mike, the
instructors, and the interpreters. A program such as this for the
blind and deaf, is why I am committed to Leader Dogs. Every
time I think I can‘t be more impressed with the programs offered
and the skills taught at the school, I am blown away by something
like this evening.‖ – Past Board Chair Lon Grossman (pictured
with Heidi Paterson and Leader Dog President Greg Grabowski)
Michigan Puppy Raisers Get Their Due
Future Leader Dogs Converge on State Capitol
Lansing got warm and fuzzy on June 17 as nearly 40 Future
Leader Dogs and more than 50 volunteer puppy raisers converged
on the Michigan state capitol to promote the message of equal
opportunity for everyone. Many of the volunteer raisers were
recognized by their state legislators for their dedication to
enhancing independence for people who are blind and visually
impaired. They were true Leader Dog ambassadors impressing
building occupants with their stellar behavior (hardly a whimper
and never an accident) as they toured the building.
A ceremony was held in the rotunda to recognize the raisers
and create awareness about Leader Dog programs. Among the
speakers was Former Michigan Representative Doug Spade, the
very first legislator in Michigan history to use a Leader Dog in
office. The raisers and their Future Leader Dogs were recognized
from the House and Senate floors and tributes were presented to
Leader Dog on behalf of the House of Representatives, the
Senate, and Governor Jennifer Granholm.
Learning about Leader Dog
The artwork of the kindergarten class of SJMO Children‘s Learning
Center in Pontiac, Michigan was so nice that it needed to be
shared. The children drew the pictures, and teacher Beverly
Hayhurst helped print their captions, several days after attending
a Kids N‘ Coins program put on by Kathleen Breen of Leader Dog
and Jasmine, a LDB public relations dog. Please enjoy the pictures
as bookmarks, to decorate your refrigerator or to cheer up your
To learn more about the Kids N‘ Coins program, visit our
website at leaderdog.org/kidsncoins or contact Kathleen Breen at
248-650-7110 ext. 2052.
Lions of Pennsylvania District 14-M
Raising Puppies and Honoring Humanitarians
For a long time, raising puppies has been an important part of
how District 14-M supports Leader Dog. So when some people
were unable to continue raising puppies due to the cost (raisers
pay for vet care, food, crates, etc.), the Lions stepped up and
developed a Puppy Program Fund which is financially supported by
clubs in the district. District 14-M Leader Dog Chair, and puppy
counselor, Linda Ogburn is a strong supporter of the program. ―It
allows people to continue to raise puppies that might not be able
to afford to. It also assures that every puppy is taken care of in a
timely fashion and has all the advantages needed to become a
great Leader Dog.‖
Lion, and Leader Dog user, Bonnie Guyan recently received the
Ross F. DiMarco Fellowship in recognition of her commitment to
humanitarian work. This honor acknowledges humanitarian
qualities such as generosity, compassion and concern for the less
fortunate. Bonnie and her husband, Bob, became Lions shortly
after Bonnie received her first Leader Dog ―Tyler‖ in 1993. Tyler,
followed by Leader Dog ―Albert‖ and now Leader Dog ―Murray‖
joined the Guyans in presenting hundreds of educational programs
where they shared their love for Leader Dog and explained how
the dogs have changed their lives in a positive way. Bonnie has
also held the positions of LD Chair for District 14-J, Western PA LD
Chair, Sight Loss Education Chair for District 14-J, and served on
the LD Puppy Committee in District 14-M.
Calendar of Events
September 7 Basic Computer Skills class
September 21 Dog Guide class 09-04
September 22 Advanced Computer Skills class
September 24 Orientation, Mobility and Leader Dog Travel
September 29 Accelerated Mobility Program class
October 10 Trekker class
October 19 Dog Guide class 09-05
November 2 Basic Computer Skills class
November 7 Trekker class
November 16 Dog Guide class 09-06
November 16 Accelerated Mobility Program class
November 30 Basic Computer Skills class
October 17 NCOMA Conference
November 23 17th Annual Lead-In the Holidays