Emma Atkinson loves her dog Sam, but Sam is more than a family dog. Sam was paired with Emma thanks to a new program K-9 Buddies. At age six Emma found out that she would become blind in her teen years. Sam isn't a guide dog, but a companion that is there for Emma and her family for moral support. Her mom Heather describes them as “the perfect partnership.” Through her relationship with Sam, Emma has learned responsibility, advocacy, and to be more outgoing. Heather also believes Emma’s relationship with Sam will help prepare her for the future, “Emma is being set up for so much success... One day she will grow up and be a self-sufficient, independent woman. She will have her guide dog with her and it will be a beautiful relationship.” I spoke with Theresa Stern, Vice President of Outreach and Admissions for Guide Dogs for the Blind about the K-9 Buddy Program.
MACARONI KID: What is the K-9 Buddy Program?
THERESA STERN: Our K-9 Buddy Program matches specially selected dogs to become wonderful pets and companions to children and young adults who are blind or visually impaired and their families. The K-9 Buddy program connects the child/family with our community of puppy raisers and other supporters, including agencies and organizations for the blind. K-9 Buddies are offered free-of-charge.
How did K-9 Buddies get created?
Guide Dogs for the Blind created this program because we believe that a dog can make a remarkable difference in any child's life by fostering a sense of caring, companionship, and a sense of responsibility through the human/animal bond. It is also a great introduction to the guide dog lifestyle and the Guide Dogs for the Blind community. The program has a very positive impact on the child being served as well as his/her family. Benefits include greater confidence, responsibility, and inclusion, among other things.
How are dogs trained for K-9 Buddies?
The dogs which are selected to serve as K-9 Buddies are dogs, which were originally trained to become guide dogs for the blind, but were career changed along the way. They are patient, well behaved dogs that enjoy being loving companions to the youths they are paired with.
How can people participate in the program as volunteers?
The best way to support the program as a volunteer is to sign up to be a volunteer on one of our two campuses (San Rafael, Calif., or Boring, Ore.) or to become part of our puppy raising community.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Guide Dogs for the Blind’s mission is to create exceptional partnerships between people, dogs, and communities. Our K-9 Buddy program is a great example of this as is our Orientation & Mobility Program, which helps people develop the skills required to be a successful guide dog user; both of these programs are free. Our core program is providing highly-qualified guide dogs to individuals who are blind or visually impaired -- also at no cost to them. We offer unparalleled support to our clients including transportation to and from our campuses, training, veterinary financial assistance as needed, in-person visits, and an alumni association. We don’t receive any government funding, so it is the generosity of donors that helps make all this possible.People who are interested in learning more about volunteering, donating, or seeing if our program is right for them should visit guidedogs.com or call 800.295.4050.