BY BETH DEDMAN
Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which provides guide dogs to blind and visually impaired individuals at no cost to the recipient, has paired each of its March graduates with guides.
When the shelter-in-place order went into effect, Guiding Eyes for the Blind had 170 puppies in its care that were undergoing training. Within one day, they found 22 families to take those dogs into their homes for the duration of the lockdown.
Thomas Panek, the CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, refers to the halt in the training process as “New York on Paws.”
“It has affected us in a big way,” Panek said. “We are a human services organization. We provide these dogs for people to be mobile, which for the blind that means things like going to the grocery store, going to the pharmacy, going to the doctor.”
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is seeking people to temporarily house the dogs, but also for people to help raise the guide dogs, with specific training and behavioral techniques, which would then be given to someone in need of a guide dog.
Because of the shelter-in-place order, some students of the program who are visually impaired were sent home with their guide after only two weeks of training instead of the usual three.
“I think it will be very meaningful for people when the pause is lifted,” Panek said. “I think it will take some time to get back to those students and finish the training.”
Panek, visually-impaired himself, has a guide dog named Blaze, who he sees not only as a means to get around but also as a close companion.
“Guide dogs love to work and they don’t understand why they aren’t working right now,” Panek said. “As a person with a dog, it’s a good time from a mental health perspective to take care of our dog and walk your dog. Of course, keep social distancing, but it’s important to maintain your health and the dogs and get some exercise.”
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is seeking people to help by sponsoring or caring for dogs during the pandemic.
More information about Guiding Eyes for the Blind is available at www.guidingeyes.org.