Bond between dogs and owners a remarkable thing, Suncoast trainer says

ABC7 News at 6pm
Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 10:04 AM EDT
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PALMETTO, Fla. (WWSB) - A dog is just a dog – or is it?

Sure, many consider our canine companions to be part of the family. After all, most of them provide more than unconditional love – in some instances they provide freedom and a better quality of life.

Wednesday was International Guide Dog Day, time to recognize the four-legged friends that assist many in their lives. Guide dogs have a special place in the heart of Meghan Watson, she has spent her entire life around them.

“I mean, who doesn’t love dogs?” Meghan said with a laugh Wednesday at Southeastern Guide Dogs campus in northern Manatee County. “These [guide] dogs really go out there and instill an independence back into the individuals.”

She knows this from personal experience. Her father is blind, so Meghan grew up watching them change her dad’s life for the better. The dogs inspired her to train more of them at Southeastern Guide Dogs, an organization that has changed countless lives over the past three decades.

Meghan started training guide dogs when she was just a teenager. She is now training her 5th pup – an eight-month-old who goes by the name ‘Holland.’

“The last time I was dogless I was only 17,” she says. “Seeing them master those skills and really get to that lightbulb moment, that is the best thing. Giving their [master] the independence without needing to rely on others is something that everyone wants and that is what these dogs do.”

Jennifer Johnston is the longtime director of the training program at Southeastern Guide Dogs. She says the instruction is all about teamwork – the facility has four teams with trainers and a support staff.

“The village that goes behind building a guide dog breeding, raising and training is strong,” Johnston says of the process. “The trust that builds on both ends of the leash as the dog learns to trust his new partner that they’ve been handed over to. And the student learning to trust the dog in the same way.”

It is a bond that goes beyond unconditional love. A bond that continues to grow and culminates when the training is complete, and the dog moves on to provide independence to someone who needs it.

Meghan: “You know [when the process is complete] that you are sending them forward to do a job that they love. You know they will be loved and cared for and that they are changing somebody’s life. It’s not easy to give them up, but when you see the results – it is 110% worth it.”

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