Well, as I said I’d do a few posts ago, this past Sunday I had the very great pleasure of driving out to Smithtown, New York on Long Island with my fiance Lisa and her brother Jack. That’s where the headquarters of the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs is. If you know what a guide dog is, you know what this foundation is. They breed and raise dogs from the time they’re puppies to eventually serve humans in need, choosing from breeds with the most aptitude for such work, including Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. The dogs grow up to serve as eyes for the blind, hands and feet for the disabled, and much needed companionship for wounded veterans.
The Foundation maintains an eight-acre training campus in Long Island that includes a state-of-the-art kennel, a puppy nursery, residence for students who are being trained on how to bond with their dogs, and even an obstacle course and a Japanese garden. Dating back to 1946, it’s one of the oldest guide dog centers in the United States, and the first in the United States to be certified by the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International.
The occasion was the 23rd Annual Second Sight Bike-a-Thon. This is an annual bike ride the Foundation holds to raise money for the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs. They have rides for all ages and skill levels, from a 5-mile bike ride all the way to a 65-mile bike ride. We decided to go with the 20 mile bike ride.
It could not possibly have been a more beautiful autumn day. The sun was out, the skies were a beautiful clear blue. We’d planned to ride the 30-mile ride, but we arrived too late and had to wait for the 20-mile ride to start instead.
As we lined up our bikes at the starting line, something caught the corner of my eye.
I ran over to pet the puppies, usually something reserved for the end of the ride. The Foundation set aside a pen just for the riders to come and greet.
There were three little guys there. The staff member there told me that they were all Labradors from the same litter, two yellow labs and one black lab. They’d just been born eight weeks ago, but they were bouncing and running and chewing everything in site like a good puppy should. The three of them were moving so fast I had a hard time focusing my camera on them.
I finally got this little guy’s attention.
The staff member explained to me that these little puppies were destined to become guide dogs, service dogs, or companion dogs to wounded veterans. As they grow older and go through training, they each develop different aptitudes that become suitable for different types of service.
I admit I had a hard time concentrating on what she was saying, as the puppies kept scampering around like a whirling dervish.
Finally, I had to leave the puppies and go back to start the ride. As I was walking out, I saw this fellow sitting by the entrance looking kind of bored. Perhaps he was reminiscing about the days when he got all the attention as a puppy.
You’re not supposed to put guide dogs (it interferes with their training), but I shouted out a “g’boy!” to him, and he seemed to appreciate it.
The ride took us through some of the most beautiful parts of Long Island, some parts I never knew existed. For example, we got to ride to a rest area at one of the very northern tips of Long Island, where we could see Connecticut in the distance.
Here’s what it looked like on the iPhone map:
The volunteers for the bike ride could not have been more amazing. The rest stops were well stocked, with volunteers feverishly working in the background to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us, a very welcome sight after riding through 10 miles of really, really, really steep hills.
Our ride took us through some of the most beautiful areas of Suffolk County, past rolling hills and beautiful views of the ocean and suburban neighborhoods and huge mansions. Here was a neat little sight–a family feeding ducks in a pond–a site that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days.
And finally, here are Lisa and her brother coming down the home stretch of a surprisingly challenging 20-mile ride.
The volunteers prepared the riders a ton of great food at the finish too.
While we were eating we saw a lot of trainers with their dogs, probably to help acclimate the dogs to situations with lots of people, kids, scrap food on the ground, and general excitement. Some dogs were doing well, others not so well. The dogs in training had to wear bright yellow vests. Even without the vests you could tell the new dogs from veteran dogs–the new dogs were the ones sniffing every plate of food left on the ground (promptly corrected by their handlers), while the seasoned ones didn’t let anything faze them.
We were fortunate enough to meet a fellow by the name of “Muzzle”. Muzzle had a blue vest, which was the guide dog equivalent of a four-star general outfit.
Muzzle is what the Foundation calls an Ambassador Dog. He’s the one who goes to schools to help teach kids about the Foundation’s mission and purposes. He’s also a stud–literally. He’s fathered many litters of dogs who have gone on to become great guide dogs, service dogs, and companion dogs. He’s also the one dog that you can pet, which I did happily (like the professional he is, he gave a nice big smile to the camera as I was talking to his handler).
I couldn’t let the day end without going to see the puppies once again. By now they were plumb tuckered out, likely the result of scores and scores of bike riders stopping by to see them throughout the day.
He wasn’t the only one tuckered out…
(sorry Lisa :))
All in all, it was a wonderful event put on by the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs. Once again, they opened their doors and showed what a wonderful organization they are. They change people’s lives by raising dogs that can help them, and looking at the dog’s faces you can tell that the dogs are the happiest they can be as well.
If you love to ride bikes and can make it to the New York area, I’d definitely recommend you keep an eye out on the Guide Dog Foundation’s Web site next year to sign up for the 2013 ride.
Another way you can support the Foundation is by buying gifts from their Web site for the dog lover in your life. A great gift for a dog owner is America’s VetDogs Treats, which you can read about on the VetDogs site. These are treats that any dog will love that are good for him or her too.
My thanks to the Guide Dog Foundation and all its volunteers for a great ride. I look forward to coming back next year!