Helping Fidelco now, helps the blind year-round

It’s December, the season of giving, when people with taxes to pay dip into their checkbooks and write a donation to a worthy cause, not only for the tax deduction benefits but to help those in need.

That’s where Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation Inc. comes in. Fidelco, which supplies highly trained German shepherd guide dogs to the blind for free, has sent out a call for donations, showing how much can be done to support the blind.

“Fidelco is supported entirely by individuals and organizations, and of course the holiday season is the giving season, when people open their hearts and checkbooks to support worthy organizations. We believe Fidelco should be on top,” said Eliot D. Russman, president and chief executive officer.

A donation of $100 sponsors early education of a German shepherd puppy. The dogs are bred at Fidelco’s facility in Bloomfield. The office is in Wilton. That money provides leash, collar, toys, and other supplies for one 8-week-old puppy going home with its volunteer puppy raiser.

A gift of $250 provides for healthy bodies. It provides all vaccinations and microchipping for one puppy.

A gift of $500 provides physical fitness, like hip and elbow X-rays, and spay or neutering for one puppy. A gift of $1,000 provides food, medication and equipment for one guide dog in training.

And there’s only one type of dog that will do.

“We’re the only guide dog organization in the world that exclusively breeds  German shepherd guide dogs. The German shepherd is a working dog, and in terms of guide dog work, the breed will work twice as long as all other guide dogs,” Russman said.

Fidelco uses the German shepherd dog for its natural intelligence, temperament, stamina, and desire to work. “As a great example of its intelligence and work ethic, the guide dog will make a decision to avoid an obstacle from six to 10 feet away. Is it safer to go left or go right? We also train the German shepherd dog, because of its intelligence, in intelligent disobedience. If a person who is completely blind gives a command to a Fidelco guide dog and the dog determines the command is unsafe — for example, to cross the street or get too close to the subway platform — the dog will step in front of the handler and make a decision not to follow the order. It’s very difficult to train.”

Founded in 1961 in Connecticut, the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation is an internationally accredited guide dog breeding and training organization. In 1981, the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation trained and placed its initial five guide dogs with blind clients.

Since 1981, more than 1,500 Fidelco German shepherd guide dogs have been placed with clients across North America in 41 states and six Canadian provinces. All guide dogs are placed with clients in their home communities. There is no cost to the recipient of a Fidelco guide dog, and this includes lifetime client services for the team, typically 10 years on average.

Fewer than 40 clients per year are given a new dog. Fidelco Guide Dogs has increased its breeding program and will be doubling its placements within three to four years to 75 and more per year. “Unfortunately, demand will always be greater than supply,” Russman said.

More than 150 young pups and guide dogs in training are in the guide dog development program at this time.

It takes two years, 15,000 hours, and $45,000 direct costs to train every guide dog. All guide dogs are given to blind clients at no cost.

More than half of all pups bred will become guide dogs — a significant number versus other breeds. Approximately 35% of pups born work in other careers, such as law enforcement, search and rescue, and missing child recovery. Approximately one in 10 pups become family pets.

To donate, call 860-243-5200.