As many of you are aware (especially if you have been following this column) not every dog who has been bred to be a guide dog will make it through the rigorous training program here at Southeastern Guide Dogs. They may have qualities that would better suit them to be a companion for a visually impaired child, a sentry for one of our veterans, possibly a seeker of explosives or -- just maybe -- they would excel as ambassadors for our mission.
Ambassador dogs are specially selected for their exceptional manners in public and their empathetic demeanor. They must be able to settle quickly into any situation and always put their best paw forward.
Ambassador dogs and their handlers are the face of Southeastern in the community, and log at least eight hours per month representing the organization at myriad local events and speaking to groups wanting to learn more about the program and services. Many of the handlers also join our Speaker’s Bureau and are called upon to educate the general public on our mission and how others can get involved.
The Ambassador teams also visit nursing homes, hospitals, hospice homes and the like to bring that special, unconditional love carried on four paws. When the dogs arrive, the change in mood is palpable – everyone just brightens! Plus, research has shown that the mere act of petting a dog (or cat, for you cat lovers out there) can lower your blood pressure.
Our Ambassadors even act as sounding boards for kids. Some teams will visit schools or our Discovery Center in downtown Sarasota to participate in reading programs. The dogs lay quietly on the floor while children read out loud to them. And despite our dogs being highly intelligent, they won’t correct any mistakes the child may make, thus bolstering their confidence and hopefully helping them to be lifelong readers.
So the next time you are looking for a guest speaker for your civic group or community meeting, why not invite along one of our Ambassador dog teams? You’ll get some great information and some puppy love all at the same time!