Imagining the Future

By Jennifer Wilkinson

Published in: Update - Issue 2 - 2015 »   
Karen sits next to her Leader Dog, black lab Shadow, smiling for her client I.D. photo at Leader Dogs for the Blind

Karen and LD Shadow in 2011

The new Canine Development Center means many different things to different people. For employees, their spaces will be better suited to the specialized work they do, every room designed with both human and dog needs in mind. For kennel volunteers, it will mean more space to work with the dogs and puppies, helping them to stay mentally and physically stimulated, which leads to happier, calmer dogs. For clients, the happier, calmer dogs will be ideally prepared to learn and absorb with fewer distractions and less stress for even more successful human/dog partnerships. For donors, it is an opportunity to contribute to the largest project Leader Dog has ever undertaken, advancing our mission for years to come.

Not many people have experienced Leader Dogs for the Blind in as many ways as Karen Burke. She came here a decade ago to meet her first Leader Dog, Misty. Since then, she has had two more Leader Dogs, and in 2013 this Royal Oak Lions Club member began volunteering on campus. As a canine support assistant, Karen helps to care for Future Leader Dogs after they are returned for training. “I help with their stress levels,” she says. “I really like doing that because I know from my experience of getting a dog that they go through so many transitions, from going to the puppy raiser to going to the instructor to going to the client.”

Karen kneels on the cement floor in the kennel with an open-mouthed smile. Her her arms are around a standing yellow lab that is looking at the camera with its mouth open and tongue out

Karen volunteers her time a few hours each week
to enrich the lives of the Leader Dogs in training
by petting, massaging and grooming them. Here,
Karen gives some love to Tess, a yellow Labrador

Karen greeted the news of the Canine Center renovations with enthusiasm. “I am very excited to see the final layout because based on what I know about the open kennels, I hope the dogs are going to be less stressed because they can see everything around them. And if need be, because the kennels are bigger, we can go and sit with them,” she says. She has been busy spreading the news and has already done two fundraisers with Pampered Chef. “And I’d like to do another one,” she adds.

Though Karen does not want to think too much about her next Leader Dog yet (“I have my [Leader Dog] Shadow right now. She’s my world!”), when she contemplates what the Canine Center will bring to the future, she sees the effects it will have on both the dogs and herself. “I think [the dogs] will be a lot calmer because they’ll be able to see the people around them. The more they see, hopefully the less distracted they’ll be in their training, particularly when they see other dogs. My next dog will come from that environment.”