By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff – September 19, 2017
On the first day of school, Melbourne Central Catholic High School had a unique new student on campus, Riley, a guide dog in training. In support of the school’s rich Franciscan history and charism of caring for animals, the school is assisting Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. (SEGDI) with the training of a yellow Labrador retriever puppy for one year.
The Husky Chapter of the National Honor Society chose to sponsor the dog as one of its several service projects after meeting NHS coordinator Anita Kealer’s husband and his guide dog, Rio. Kaeler said, “The kids were so impressed with their relationship that they asked if they could do something to support Southeastern Guide Dogs.” Students and faculty will help Riley improve his socialization skills so that he will be ready for his six-month formal training at SEGDI next year.
“The support for Riley on campus is overwhelming,” said Kaeler. “Especially if they are feeling stressed or down, the students say that simply seeing Riley makes them feel better. We stand outside the classroom during each class change and he greets the students as they go by. It’s great socializing for Riley and an opportunity for students to say hello and give him a pat on the head. He even has his own little fan club that comes to visit him in the classroom during break every day. Some teachers are using Riley as an incentive for students to do well in their classes by rewarding them with a visit from Riley.”
Riley is learning how to interact with students, staff and guests; how to greet people politely and wait patiently during conversations. He is also learning how to successfully navigate stairs and elevators, react calmly to loud noises, ignore sudden distractions, and respond to basic commands. After his SEGDI training, he will be able to serve as a working guide dog for someone who is visually impaired or as a service dog for a veteran living with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
According to the SEGDI mission statement, guide dogs provide “freedom, confidence, courage, and hope for people who cannot see and veterans who have seen too much.” The organization has numerous volunteer puppy raisers, including MCC. The honor society will be hosting four car washes this year to continue raising funds for SEGDI and for Riley’s care. They will present SEGDI with a check later this Fall.