A young yellow lab/golden retriever cross sits on a porch in a too-big blue Leader Dog vest. Behind the puppy is a bench with a plush dog in a blue Future Leader Dog bench. To the right is a pink sign with a flower design. It reads: watch me grow.

By Volunteer Puppy Raiser Karen Beatty

My first-born grandson, Dawson, was born at 24 weeks 3 days and weighed in at 1lb 11oz. Due to being premature, he developed Retinopathy of Prematurity stage IV (ROP). ROP occurs when blood vessels stop growing for a time, then begin growing abnormally and randomly. The new vessels are fragile and can leak, leaving the retina scarred and possible detachment. In Dawson’s case, the retinas detached, tearing away from the back wall of the eye and putting him at a high risk of becoming blind. He now has no vision in his right eye and low vision with nystagmus (an involuntary eye moment) in his left. His visual acuity is 20/800.

An older yellow lab/golden retriever puppy sits next to a young boy holding a white cane. They are in a living room.
Mira D and her namesake, Dawson

While reading all I could on vision impairments and blindness, I came across the Leader Dogs for the Blind website. A guide dog, I thought, would be something Dawson might really benefit from. I noticed the volunteer tab and wondered in what capacity we could volunteer (we live two hours away from Rochester Hills). Puppy raising seemed to be the perfect fit. We got a puppy of our own to see if we had the dedication it took to raise a Future Leader Dog. When our dog Lacy was 1.5 years old, we decided to apply. We were approved and picked up our first puppy, Mira D, (Everest X Gatsby), a yellow Labrador/golden retriever cross on January 27, 2020.

Her name has a special meaning. Mira, short for miracle, and D for Dawson. We later learned about the Mira Foundation, an organization that provides guide dogs for clients between the ages of 11 and 17, and that “mira” in Spanish means sight. We didn’t know that when choosing her name, but we refer to these type of things as “God winks.”

Yellow lab/golden retriever in a Leader Dog harness sits next to a smiling woman with graying hair and glasses.
Mira D with her forever person

We raised Mira D for about 15 months, dropping her off at Leader Dog on April 29, 2021. She’s now working with her client in Wisconsin. As for Dawson, he’s now 12, has a personality larger than life, is quick witted and very musically talented.

Our journey with Leader Dog continued when we picked up our second Future Leader Dog Resi B (Casey X Briggs) a yellow Labrador/golden retriever cross on September 9, 2021. Her name also has a special meaning.

A young yellow lab/golden retriever puppy sits on a kitchen floor next to a young smiling boy with his arm around the puppy.
Resi B with her namesake, Benjamin

Resi is for resilience and B for Benjamin, our second born grandson. Physical resilience refers to the body’s ability to adapt to challenges, maintain stamina and strength and recover quickly and efficiently.

Benjamin was born with malrotation of his intestines with volvulus, which means the intestine did not form properly and failed to make the normal turns in the abdomen. Volvulus is when the intestines twist, cutting off the blood supply. At 3 days old, Benjamin went in for emergency surgery where the doctors untwisted and re-routed his intestines. He was given a 20% chance of survival. It was a huge surgery for such a tiny boy, but he did great. Benjamin is now a very loving, athletic, amazing 7-year-old. Resi is a very sweet, loving and obedient puppy with maybe just a little more pep in her step. Her projected return date is August 21, 2022.

If all goes as planned, we will pick up puppy number three when returning Resi B to Leader Dog. The house felt so empty after returning Mira D and our personal dog, Lacy, felt her absence.

Karen and her husband with a young puppy in Karen's arms. They are smiling and standing in front of a field of sunflowers.We have our sixth grandchild on the way, so we know we must raise at least four more puppies after Resi B, hopefully more! All our children and grandchildren love the puppies and the entire family pitches in to help.

I feel so blessed to have met so many wonderful people in the Leader Dog community, some in person and some through email and social media, but all are supportive and full of great advice. I have our puppy counselor on speed dial! I love how everyone is cheering each other on every step of the way. We have utilized all the materials and resources available. Puppy raising for Leader Dog has taught me how to be a responsible pet owner and all about positive reinforcement. Our only regret is we didn’t know about it sooner.

If raising a puppy might be the right volunteer opportunity for you or someone you know, you can find out more on our website. Browse the FAQs, sign up for a free, virtual orientation session and learn more about the impact you could make.

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: September 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: June 8, August 3, Sept 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

Close up photo of someone hand stamping part of a leather harness with numbers, using a metal tool

By Steve Williams

Steve Williams works in the tack shop with a hammer and other tools to assemble a leather harness
Steve works in the tack shop on Leader Dog’s campus.

After working as an orthotist (a person who makes custom orthopedic devices) for 39 years, my wife and I closed our family business in 2015. Shortly after retiring I started volunteering in the tack room. I was very excited to be part of Leader Dogs for the Blind (LDB) since I grew up nearby and had a family connection.

My daughter, Ana Williams, worked for several years as a guide dog mobility instructor for English and Spanish-speaking clients. While she worked at LDB, my wife and I had an opportunity to take a tour of the facility. I saw my retirement future as soon as we stepped into the tack shop. This is where the tack shop volunteers assist with assembling and repairing leather harnesses and tie-downs for the dogs. Some of the harnesses are also customized to accommodate a dog or handler’s physical stature. When I trained many years ago to become an orthotist, most of the devices were made from leather and metal. Although technology has changed over the years to incorporate more sophisticated materials, I always loved using my old school leather work skills.

Volunteer Brent works on assembling a harness in the tack shop
Volunteer Brent works on leather in the tack shop.

The steps to make a harness have evolved since the tack shop opened many years ago and we routinely try to improve on little details to perfect the finished product. I really like to study the old harnesses that clients return to inspect for wear issues that might affect the durability or comfort of the harnesses. Feedback from the vet clinic and instructors also helps us improve the design. A few years ago, a vet technician mentioned that the copper rivets on the side of the harness were rubbing against a dog’s torso. We knew that if the rivets were irritating one dog, there was potential that several dogs were encountering the same issue. We started rounding the top of the rivets so there wouldn’t be any edges to aggravate the dog’s skin. We rely on this sort of feedback and teamwork to make the equipment comfortable since the dogs can’t tell us how they are feeling.

I especially love using our vintage sewing machine that was donated by the Hazel Park horse racetrack’s tack shop. Like the tack room volunteer crew, it is a little finicky and temperamental but when it’s time to go to work it does a marvelous job. The volunteer crew consists of myself, Brent Fecteau, Rob Walker and John Bastion. We enjoy a unique camaraderie and I couldn’t have hoped to share my retirement time with a nicer group of people. We gab like a bunch of old hens while we produce about 300 harnesses each year. I feel so lucky to be able to spend my retirement doing what I love. My wife, Mary, feels similarly blessed and volunteers as a client activity assistant with the Spanish-speaking clients and as a canine center receptionist. I sincerely hope that all retirees are as fortunate as we are to find a place like LDB to use their talents.

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.  You’ll learn what is expected of you as a puppy raiser and the support Leader Dog has in place to help. Orientations are held on Leader Dog’s campus in the canine development center from 6–8 p.m. Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go to the building with the big, green roof.

Additional orientation dates: April 13, June 8, August 3, September 28, November 23 (all from 6–8 p.m.)

Black lab puppy wearing blue Future Leader Dog bandana looks up toward the camera

By Puppy Raiser Becky Wynn

I am a retired speech/language pathologist and raised my first two Future Leader Dog puppies while I was still working in the public schools in Southgate, MI. I traveled between several schools and worked with children from preschool through middle school. It was an incredible journey for all of us. My main building was an elementary school whose principal was a former Lions club member. He, as well as the school board and the special services director, were very receptive to raising a puppy in school. He said he had never seen quieter hallways than when the puppy was walking with me to the different classrooms.

I think the first puppy taught us more than we taught him. His picture hung up on the entry wall along with all the staff pictures and the students took great pride in their contribution to his training. The students named both puppies. When it was time for Mr. Webster to go to “college” (come back to Leader Dog for formal guide training), the elementary school had an awards ceremony for him. Parents came and Mr. Webster was presented with a certificate. Then we went from room to room and took off his jacket so that each student could give him a hug good-bye.

Logistically, I had a crate in each of the therapy rooms that I worked in and over time the puppy learned to lay quietly under the table while I worked with small groups of students. One 2nd grade teacher had her students describe one thing that they learned from having a Future Leader Dog puppy in school. Here are a few of my favorites:

“I learned that you can do more than collect bottle tops and soup can labels to help other people.”

“I learned that a Leader Dog can be working when he is sound asleep.”

“I learned that if you act up in the hallway the puppy acts up too, and no one wants the puppy to get in trouble.”

“I learned that Leader Dogs help blond [sic] people who can’t see.”

“I learned that puppy slobber makes your hair lay down.”

What I learned was how devoted and responsible children can be when they are part of an important project like raising a Leader Dog. They took such pride in how their behavior affected Mr. Webster’s training. They educated all visitors and their parents about proper manners around the puppy. My speech students got to help him with his “cues” (commands) and learned how important precise pronunciation had to be in order for the puppy to understand what they were asking. They learned patience by giving only one cue word and then waiting for the puppy to respond. I had autistic students who preferred to talk only to the puppy. It was an incredible education for all of us and Mr. Webster had a profound and lifelong impact.

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy.

You will learn how raising a puppy works, what you’ll do as a raiser, and the resources and support you’ll receive from Leader Dog to help you raise a puppy that’s ready to be trained as a guide dog.

When: Monday, July 22 from 6–8 p.m.
Where: Leader Dogs for the Blind campus, 1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307
Go into the building closest to Rochester Road (by the glass revolving door).

Please contact Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org by July 15 to get your name on the attendee list.

A black lab lies on a blanket in a whelping box with several newborn black lab puppies nursing

By Gary Lewandowski

On April 24, 2019, Leader Dog Mom “Trinket” officially became a “Retired Leader Dog Mom!”

She gave the Leader Dog organization four great litters, all so very different but all just fantastic little individual Future Leader Dogs! Some have already gone on to become guide dogs while others have settled into a great life with loving families as career changed dogs, while others are with their puppy raisers or undergoing training now at Leader Dog!

A very young black lab puppy sits in a sink. It is all wet and looking at the cameraThe experience has taught my wife Lori and I patience, and more especially a real appreciation for the miracle of birth and how amazing the natural instincts of these remarkable dogs are.

Being a host family is a lot of work, and yes, there were a couple heartbreaks along the way, which comes with doing this, but weighed against the rewards and the satisfaction of knowing that the efforts can and will make a strong and positive change in someone’s life make the experience invaluable.

The good far outweighed the bad for sure!

So now OUR Trinket will enjoy a great life in our home that will be her forever home, and she will be rewarded with many years of love and spoiling!

Two young black lab puppies sleep next to each other, one on its belly and one on its backWill we host another Leader Dog Mom? Well, if this fantastic experience working with an organization that is so very meaningful in changing the lives or people with blindness is any indication of how we feel and how proud we are to be a part of it, I guess that question has already been answered!

And for those who may be considering becoming a host home for a LD Mom or Dad… you will never regret that decision and the experience! It is indeed life changing and in a very good way!

Photos courtesy of Gary Lewandowski

Sarah sits smiling at the camera in front of a beige wall. She is sitting next to a yellow lab

I never knew how much Leader Dogs for the Blind would mean to me or how invested I would become when I began volunteering in August 2007. I started by coming in one day a week but I quickly realized how much I loved being here. I kept adding days to my schedule and I currently volunteer four days a week. I split my time between canine center receptionist and canine support assistant. I look forward to coming in each and every day because it puts a smile on my face. It really makes me feel good to help other people and be a service to the community.

The canine center receptionist role is extremely rewarding. I have always loved being around dogs and I enjoy administrative work so this was the perfect fit for me. I answer incoming calls and talk to some amazing people. I enjoy greeting all the visitors, puppy raisers, volunteers and employees when they come into the canine center. I have gotten to know a lot of people and I value all the friendships I have made over the years. My favorite part is interacting with others and how I feel when I have helped someone either in person or over the phone.

There are so many things I enjoy about this volunteer role, but one of my absolute favorite things is witnessing career changed dogs go to their new home. It is especially fun to see puppy raisers come in to pick up their dog after being career changed. The puppy raisers simply amaze me with how much work they put into raising their puppies. The dogs are so excited to be reunited with their raisers!

I am really impressed with the organization and how much time and training is required to prepare a dog to become a Leader Dog for a client. As a canine support assistant, I get to spend one-on-one time with the dogs in training. I love being able to sit with the dogs, give them love and interact with them. I feel that the dogs work hard and it brightens their day and makes them feel special to receive individual attention. It is also rewarding to be a part of these dogs’ lives knowing that they could potentially be guiding a person who is visually impaired or blind in the future.

Volunteering at LDB these past 12 years has been such an amazing experience. I am so grateful to be part of such a wonderful organization that provides their services free of charge. I love spending a large part of my week at LDB and knowing it is helping clients gain independence.

This orientation is a great opportunity for people who would like to know more about volunteering to raise a Leader Dog puppy. You’ll learn about how raising a puppy for Leader Dog works and meet just a few of the people who help support the puppy raising adventure.

Saturday, May 11 from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.

1039 W. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307

Go into the building closest to Rochester Road (by the glass revolving door).

Please RSVP by May 6 to Laura Fisher at 248-218-6422 or lfisher@leaderdog.org to get your name on the attendee list.

A young yellow Labrador puppy sits in a metal bucket with its mouth open as though smiling

By Emma Jo Haden, Breeding Stock Host

As a little girl, I was fascinated by a guide dog donation statue that sat in the front of the store where my Nanna worked. It had a real leather harness, and I would beg my mother for coins to put in the little coin slot. My parents would buy calendars and Christmas cards to support charitable fundraising, and as I grew, so did both my love for animals and my desire to make a difference in the world.

Many years later, living on the other side of the world with a family of my own, I saw a tiny advertisement in a local newspaper for host families for breeding stock dogs for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Within 24 hours I had emailed the contact point, filled out any paperwork I could find, and practically written a cover letter to Leader Dogs expressing why they should consider my family! Very soon after, we welcomed Harmony, a gorgeous sweetheart of a yellow Labrador retriever into our home. Hosting a breeding stock Mama for Leader Dogs has been so rewarding for our family, and although the benefits are countless, here are what we consider the five best things about hosting a Leader Dog Mom, in no particular order.

  1. Working with Leader Dog! Leader Dog has been a pleasure to work with in every way from day one. Every expectation involved in hosting was explained in detail, and a manual was provided that covered everything from the care of the breeding mom, to the whelping experience and detailed care of the puppies from birth to seven weeks. Supports are in place in the form of access to a mentor as well as a veterinarian on call. Every single interaction with Leader Dog has shown them to be helpful, encouraging and reassuring in every sense of the word.
  2. The breeding mom! Harmony was bred through the Leader Dog program with a wonderful pedigree and is a perfect specimen for breeding both physically and behaviorally. She spent a year training with a puppy raiser before she was selected for breeding. More than that though, Leader Dog matched her with our family to ensure a good fit, and we could not be more in love with her beautiful personality. We can’t imagine life without her!
  3. The puppies! From the experience of witnessing the miracle of birth, to watching the puppies grow, ever so quickly, from tiny little helpless beings to big, strong, playful and smart little puppy dogs, we have loved every second of every snuggle and puppy kiss and the joy of their little waggy tails as they welcome our appearance at any time of day or night. Seriously, what could be sweeter?
  4. The people! If you’re even reading this, it’s quite probable that you are a dog person. In hosting a Leader Dog Mom, we have met many amazing, kind and generous volunteers who host breeding moms and dads, puppy raise, fundraise and more. We are so thankful to be a part of this group of dog people, who don’t just love dogs, but also love touching lives through their work.
  5. The lives we touch! So far, Harmony has provided Leader Dog with 15 beautiful, healthy, smart little puppies. Each puppy will touch countless lives even as they grow and learn. When they return to Leader Dog for intensive training, if successful, they will be matched with a client, providing a person with visual impairment access to life-changing freedom and independence. Some puppies may be selected for breeding, or alternative careers such as sniffer dogs or therapy dogs. Harmony herself may work in therapy when her breeding days are over.

Who knew, all those years ago, that one little charity collection would influence my life so greatly. Being involved in hosting a Leader Dog mom has enriched my life and made it possible for my family and me to make a positive impact in the world. I am thankful every day for this amazing experience, and I look forward to many years of association with this wonderful organization, Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Bill sits in a chair in a suite in the canine center. He is smiling at the camera with one hand on the yellow lab lying next to him on a Kuranda bed

I was born in Minnesota and lived in California and Wisconsin before making my way to Michigan after college. Unfortunately, my dog passed away after I retired from a career in government contracting. I thought about getting another dog, but also wanted to enjoy the benefits of retirement. I wanted the freedom to live and travel without the constraints that come with pet ownership. I also wanted to give back to my community. After talking to a neighbor about her volunteer work at Leader Dogs for the Blind, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to give me the “dog fix” and community service I wanted. Although I had lived in Rochester Hills for many years, I admit that all that time Leader Dog was just another reference point on Rochester Road (much like a store or restaurant). Little did I know that I was about to find out it was a true jewel hidden in plain sight.

I started volunteering almost seven years ago. What I didn’t realize was that once you become a part of an organization like Leader Dog and see the good they do for their clients, it “gets into your bones” or, as I was reminded recently by a fellow volunteer, it really “gets into your heart.” In addition to my canine support assistant role, I also volunteer as a docent and instructor support.

As a canine support assistant, I provide companionship and stress relief for the dogs in training and that gives me my “dog fix.” As an instructor support volunteer, I assist the instructors on and off campus in a variety of settings as they train the dogs to become Leader Dogs. As a docent, I conduct tours of the campus for the public to help them understand and appreciate Leader Dog’s mission.

My time spent at Leader Dog has fulfilled my desire to bring another dog home. I really love dogs and I feel that my volunteer work makes their journey to becoming a guide dog better and less stressful. All of my current and past volunteer positions have allowed me to see the complete arc of Leader Dog’s operation. More importantly, it has allowed me to see the impact Leader Dog has on people’s lives.

It’s funny that I came to Leader Dog for a “dog fix” because I wanted the freedom to live and travel without constraints, which is the same goal Leader Dog has for their clients.

Light Up Leader Dog

Join us this holiday season as we Light Up Leader Dog! For a $10 donation, a luminary will be placed in your honor on Leader Dog's campus on the evening of December 11, 2021.