By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Recognition is not something Jeff and Kim Davis of Limestone are seeking in regards to their German Shepherds. In fact, many people don’t realize that sitting up in tranquility is a top quality dog kennel where a superior breeding program is in place where the primary purpose is donations.
Around a decade ago, J. Davis rescued a female German Shepherd that was so poor in condition, the veterinarian actually recommended humane euthanasia. They decided to seek out a second opinion which fortunately led to a vet willing to help. After about six months, J. Davis said she was then the healthiest, happiest dog ever. Their initial intentions were to breed her just once, get her spayed and have her as a lifelong pet. The plan started out as intended with happy and healthy puppies born about two months after breeding. Finding them good homes was of the upmost importance to the Davises, which was when a friend suggested they look into Pilot Dogs, Inc. out of Columbus, OH. This is a 501c3 (non-profit) organization that several entities support, including the Lions Club. Breeds accepted into the program at this time include Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, Boxers, and Vizsla.
Pilot Dogs, Inc. was established in 1950 is dedicated to train and furnish guide dogs for the blind. Since the program began, they match more than 150 individuals each year with their new, four legged partner. The Davises, along with any other breeder who donates to the program, sends the pups to Pilot Dogs around five weeks of age. J. Davis explained they are to administer no health care to their puppies because the program has their own strict guidelines to do so. Once the pups arrive in Columbus and reach seven to twelve weeks of age, they begin phase one by going to a puppy trainer, which is similar to a foster home. The website states, “We do this because we have found that home-raised dogs make better adjustments as guides than do kennel raised dogs. We ask that the Raiser teach the pup basic obedience (potty training, manners, etc.), as well as take them to an obedience course when they are between four and five months old. One of the most important responsibilities of the Raiser is to socialize the pup as much as possible; which means exposing them to traffic, other animals and people, etc.”
At twelve to fourteen months of age, they enter phase two, or their formal training. They return to Pilot Dogs to begin this rigorous endeavor with one of their own professional trainers or instructors. “This training typically lasts about five months. As the dogs advance, the training schedules are changed so that the dogs begin training in the streets of Columbus where they learn how to navigate buses, revolving doors, escalators, elevators, and all other conditions the blind may encounter once returned home with their Pilot Dogs,” says the website.
At the completion of phase two, phase three can commence which is the training of the team. To be considered eligible for the program, not only does the individual have to be legally blind, but mentally and physically capable of caring for their new companion. Once an application is submitted, a review board will carefully consider all potential candidates before selecting those they feel would be a perfect match. Once they are selected, Pilot Dogs brings the individual to their campus for four weeks to be matched with their new guide dog and learn their training. “This usually begins with the student bathing the dog. This bathing process is the preliminary lesson for the student in the dog’s care. Simple, short walks are taken at first, always in the company of our professional Trainers/Instructors. The walks and obstacles become increasingly difficult over the four weeks. Eventually, the dog and student find their way about our largest department stores, on and off buses, and across our busiest thoroughfares by themselves.” According to the Davis’s, at the time of matching pups to masters, there has been approximately $10,000 invested into each of these canines, and the new master is only asked a $200 donation.
Unfortunately, not all pups are cut out for the program. J. Davis has had two who didn’t make the program. One was accidentally dropped as a puppy by their foster family and broke their leg, and the other one “whined too much,” he explained. “Breeders are always given first dibs on puppies that don’t make the program, but we would rather the foster family keep them,” he explained. He recalled when sending a group of females to Columbus and a male accidentally made the trip as well. Pilot Dogs decided to keep the male and give him a try, which they were fascinated by his abilities and demeanors. Unfortunately, after a few more males were requested by the program, they discovered they were outgrowing the standard sized kennels they are required to fit in. The males were reaching around 125 pounds and they prefer the 65 to 85 pound range. J. Davis explained due to standard sized kennels needed to be used by airlines and other size requirements set forth by entities, they couldn’t send many of their male pups. Fortunately, this allows them to secure good homes through outside sales of these pups to help fund their breeding program and continue to be able to donate.
“I don’t even know how many pups we’ve sent,” J. Davis said. K. Davis has many reports received through Pilot with pictures and basic information regarding who their dogs get matched with and where they ended up. In addition to states all over our country, they also have pups in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Canada. Breeding isn’t even considered until their females reach two years old, and they only breed them once a year. “In all reality, these are our pets. I don’t want to turn them into puppy machines,” he said. The couple expressed a desire to assist the program more once their work slows down by serving as a foster home for the pups. “We chose Pilot because they donate their dogs,” J. Davis said. “These dogs give people freedom.”
The Davises have also set up fundraiser events to further assist Pilot Dogs, Inc. which raised around $5,000 for their mission. Right now, they have one sire named King, who is eleven years old, they purchased from Terra Alta. Queen, their oldest female from Elizabeth, and a set of sisters, Raven and Lady, who were mothered by Queen but sired by Zeus out of Aurora. Not only do these quality canines consume nearly 60 pounds of food per week and an unknown amount of treats, they live the good life in a five stall, heated kennel with access to the outdoors 24/7 in addition to turn out time daily. The kennels can maintain 40 degree temperatures even when the outside temperature drops to 0 degrees. J. Davis explained he doesn’t want to keep it any warmer than that due to the nature and coat structure of this breed. The concrete runs are lined with straw in the winter and cleaned twice a day. The goal is to breed in the summer, but in the occurrence of a winter litter, a heated whelping room is also in place. Improvements are also being worked on to add a shower and grooming table in the separate heated area.
For more information regarding Pilot Dogs, Inc. you can visit www.pilotdogs.org