NewsPinellas County


Puppies board a plane during training to become a guide dog or service animal

Southeastern Guide Dogs train dogs
Posted at 9:24 PM, Nov 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-12 23:23:38-05

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Dozens of dogs arrived at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport as part of their training to become a guide dog or service animal.

About five groups with Southeastern Guide Dogs participated in the training on Tuesday evening.

"A lot of dogs travel by airplane so they really need to know how to go through security, how to sit on a plane. There are distractions with all the people traveling and suitcases rolling are a distraction," said Donna Jeffares, a puppy raiser.

Puppy raisers like Donna Jeffares went to the ticket counter, through security and boarded a plane with their dog.

"About 70 percent of our dogs will find a career either as a guide dog for a visually impaired person or service a dog suffering with post traumatic stress disorder or find a career with our children and teens program," said Leslie Shepard, Director of Puppy Raising Services with Southeastern Guide Dogs.

The airport partnered with Allegiant Air to host the puppy training and allow their handlers to get experience traveling with their dog.

Puppy raisers keep their dogs for about 18 months and then the dog goes to a campus with Southeastern Guide Dogs for additional training.

"The value of their training they receive from the time they're born until they're matched with our clients is about $60,000," said Shepard.

The nonprofit, Southeastern Guide Dogs, runs on donations. The dogs remain free for the people who need them.

"Although it's very hard to give these puppies up, someone needs them much more than we do," said Jeffares.

Jeffares has worked as a puppy raiser for about five years.

The nonprofit is always looking for more puppy raisers or donations. Those interested in helping can click here for more information.