'Buddy' proved to be a 'Leader' dog for the ages

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

He was the so-called “pick of the litter,” a yellow fur-ball that immediately wrapped his newfound family around his four little paws.

He was anointed with the name “Buddy,” a moniker that seemed particularly fitting since he supposedly would serve as such after receiving his marching orders from the Leader Dogs for the Blind program in Rochester.

The program, founded during the Great Depression by three members of a Lions Club in Detroit, serves as a lifeline for those who are visually impaired, supplying them – free of charge – with guide dogs that will act as their eyes and ears for years to come.

“It all began in 1938 when Charles A. Nutting, Donald P. Schurr and S.A. Dodge led the Uptown Lions Club of Detroit in establishing a school to train guide dogs for people who are blind,” according to the Leader Dogs for the Blind website. “Their motivation was Dr. Glenn Wheeler, a fellow Uptown Lion whose attempts to be accepted by another guide dog organization proved unsuccessful. The first clients were housed at the Park Avenue Hotel in Detroit and graduated in the fall of 1938.”

Lions Clubs throughout the world have made it part of their mission to support Leader Dogs for the Blind, providing steady financial support that helps enable the nonprofit organization to offer services “free of charge to our clients.” In short, the service club’s longstanding support means that “no one is excluded from living their most fulfilling life due to lack of funds,” according to program officials.

For the better part of a decade, I served as an ambassador for the Leader Dog program, trumpeting its work through a series of photos, stories, and fund-raisers. It was the “labor of love” kind of work that became a game-changing experience when a certain “Buddy” entered our life.

He was a Yellow Lab who quickly grew into his full 90-pound weight by eating nearly everything in sight, including bushes, flowers, shoes, and assorted household knickknacks. He even had a penchant for gnawing on 9-volt batteries, a habit that seemingly provided an endless supply of energy for the growing pup.

Of course, there was nothing he liked more than the sight of an unattended plate of food on the dinner table, which proved to be easy pickings for a full-grown dog determined to satisfy his daily craving for calories.

Despite his various shortcomings, the young dog was a quick study, mastering a series of commands that would prove useful when asked to be on his best Leader Dog behavior. Not surprisingly, with his boyish good looks and exceedingly friendly disposition, he was an instant hit wherever we took him, winning over audiences at the Post Office, the grocery store, the basketball game, the airport, and the newsroom.

He particularly enjoyed the trappings of a nearby meat market, where he could sample the offerings as a well-paid taste-tester.

Yum.

Then, a year after we adopted him, Buddy suddenly was no longer ours, summoned back to Rochester to await word on who he would be destined to serve in the years ahead.

A week later, in a reversal of fortune, we received word that he could be ours again – with a decided catch, of course.

Upon careful examination, Buddy was found to have the perfect makings of a stud dog, a lifelong assignment that we suspected he would relish as much as polishing off a 16-ounce T-bone.

In fact, he did, as we wore a 90-mile path to and from Rochester, carting a canine that howled in delight each time we pulled up to the Leader Dog facility.

Some six months later, we began to tire of the travels, opting to say goodbye for good to a dog that was having the time of his life – at our car’s expense.

Once in a new home, this time just minutes from Rochester, Buddy continued to flourish, producing litter after litter of well-bred pups. It was a joyous task he deftly handled for several years to come, etching his name among the “Leaders” and the “Best” that a program has to offer.

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