Monday, March 14, 2011

Guide Dog Katie Visits Puppy Raiser

Guide Dog Katie Returns to Tampa Prep
Debbie Williams visits Tampa Prep
with Guide Dog Katie.

Jan Williams with
Katie as a puppy.
Mrs. Jan Williams, a Tampa Prep teacher and long-time puppy raiser of guide dogs for the blind, had a joyful reunion with one of her former puppies, Katie, when Katie returned to the School with her visually impaired partner, Mrs. Debbie Williams.

Debbie Williams spoke to the Tampa Prep student body about her special relationship with Katie in an all-school Assembly Friday, March 4. Students cheered as Jan Williams introduced the pair, listening intently as Debbie Williams talked, many remembering the copper-coated Vizsla, Katie, from her puppy days on campus. Jan Williams shared, "It was a real full-circle event. Everyone watches 'Jan's puppies' grow and mature during the school year, but they don't usually get to see the finished product. A professional guide dog is an impressive creature."

Debbie Williams emphasized the importance of having a guide dog in her life. Like many other people who are visually challenged, she is not totally blind but her sight is significantly impaired, the result of an ocular disease in adulthood. With Katie by her side, Debbie is able to move with mobility, independence, safety and dignity. Without Katie, she would be much less confident about venturing into the world.

Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto matched Debbie with Katie, in a bonding process that identified whether or not they were suited for each other, which is the way the guide dog organization matches each of its applicants. "From the first moment we were together, it just felt right," Debbie Williams said.

For Jan Williams, who has been raising and conditioning puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs for nine years, it was a moving event. "We normally get to meet the students who are matched with our dogs," she said, "but we can't count on a continuing relationship. That Debbie wants to stay in our lives is such a gift.  We put so much love and effort into our puppies that it would be disappointing to have to say goodbye forever," she said.  Katie, for her part, obviously remembered both Jan and Tampa Prep, as she happily walked around campus, frequently giving Jan licks (kisses) and "hugs." Raising a guide dog is a more-than-one-year commitment and takes complete dedication. "Puppy raising is a 24-hour commitment.  No matter what we are doing, we must have one eye on our charges. But I love the lifestyle. I am so grateful that I have the support of my school community in raising my dogs here," said Williams.

The reunion was precipitated by the Guide Dog Walkathon, held March 5, to benefit Southeastern Guide Dogs, a non-profit organization that creates and nurtures partnerships between a visually impaired individual and a guide dog. Debbie Williams and her husband returned to Tampa with Katie for the Walkathon from the North Carolina town where they reside.

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