MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio — A plane filled with dogs landed at the Geauga County Airport Wednesday afternoon.
This unusual cargo is part of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program, a non-profit which initially trains dogs in places such as Northeast Ohio with the help of its volunteer puppy raisers, and then helps set up those with vision loss or impairment with a free and qualified companion.
“People need to be independent and get to the grocery store and where they need to go,” CEO Thomas Panek said. “Without a dog, it’s very hard when people want to social distance, to be able to receive assistance as a person who is blind.”
Panek dropped off Fenway, a golden retriever puppy, along with several other dogs, from their headquarters an hour outside New York City.
The dogs were transported by plane with the help of Michael Schneider and Pilots to the Rescue, a nonprofit created to help transport domestic and endangered animals as well as people at risk.
About 45 dogs are in the process of being trained in Northeast Ohio right now, said Leslie Stephens, who oversees the local operation.
After being dropped off, these dogs will spend the next 14-16 months working with their trainers, before heading back to the nonprofit’s main campus for formal training to become guide dogs.
For Mark Knapik of Newbury, the day marks the end of his journey with his dog, Fallon, who boarded the plane and headed back to New York.
“We [taught] Fallon some 40 something obedience commands,” he said. “Tonight is going to be a very hard evening.”
While Knapik is still training a couple of other dogs, Fallon marks the ninth dog that’s completed training at his home.
“She’s a good dog,” Knapik said. “I’m going to miss her. I just want her to go on and do great things.”
For Lori Wagner and her husband, they’re taking on responsibilities training Fenway, their second dog as part of the program.
“It’s hard because you become attached to the dog and they become part of your life and your family,” she explained. “Once we understood how wonderful this is for the person who receives the dog, it's awesome."
If you’re interested in becoming a puppy raiser with guiding eyes for the blind, you can learn more by clicking here.