It’s one thing to train a dog that’s obedient and responds to commands, but training a canine companion to be a person’s eyes and ears is a task that takes plenty of time and love.
This past Saturday, the nonprofit Guide Dogs of America held a graduation celebration at its campus in Sylmar for a few of the dogs in its program, which included Cassidy, a nearly 2-year-old female black Labrador retriever trained by Burbank residents Alison and Bob Schooley.
During that afternoon, the Guide Dogs of America handed Cassidy to her new permanent owner, Toni Carr, a Chicago resident who is blind.
“It’s hard letting go of [Cassidy] after training her, but it’s not an insurmountable [hardship],” Alison Schooley said. “It’s not like she’s dying, and we know where she is if we need to find her if we need to. Plus, you know how much you’re changing someone’s world now that they have her.”
For the past 14 months, the Schooleys have been preparing the female canine for her job as a guide dog. The couple received Cassidy when she was 8 weeks old and immediately started her training.
Alison Schooley, a local teacher, said there are different levels of “puppy kindergarten” that guide dogs in training need to attend, as well as obedience classes and social interactions with other dogs to get them acclimated to working in the real world.
“You have to be able to devote time into this program, but [Guide Dogs of America] does a great job at making the program user friendly,” she said.
It isn’t the first time the Schooleys have trained a dog for the nonprofit. They first took part in the program 12 years ago when they were looking for volunteer opportunities.
They decided to help the organization again because they enjoyed their first training experience and wanted to do it again.
Although Cassidy is off to Chicago with her new owner, the Schooleys are already in the middle of training another dog, whose name also happens to be Toni, like Cassidy’s new companion.
“It makes me feel like I have a higher purpose,” Alison Schooley said. “As much as teaching is fulfilling, teaching a dog to change somebody’s life is unbelievable. It’s a labor of love.”