Issue 46 | February 22, 2013 | Featuring Janelle Lefor


It takes a unique individual to become immersed in training guide dogs for the blind; someone who knows about whole-hearted commitment balanced with the preparedness to let go.  It almost sounds like qualities that make a good home schooling parent! And the results of all that sacrifice and time invested manifest in a highly trained and much loved guide dog gracing the life of someone who now has "eyes".   Read about Janelle Lefor.   


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The touching sight of a guide puppy in training at the grocery store one day, got the Lefor's wondering if they might want to volunteer time in the process of enriching a blind person's life with a highly trained, lovable dog.  After just a little inquiry, they answered the call. With the application process behind them, the Lefor's were "loaned" an 8-week-old, golden lab puppy which was specially bred for congeniality.   The family soon discovered that spending a lot of time with the little one is a must; this is not just a pet. He needs to be familiarized foremost with family life. When out in public, the growing puppy wears a vest stating "Guide Dog In Training" which of course attracts a lot of attention.  But people gathering around the dog is just fine.  He needs to get used to crowds at the grocery store, in elevators, and at events. Some well-behaved puppies even go to work with mom or dad. The puppy needs lots of experience in high traffic areas to become savvy about signals, crosswalk areas and warning signs.  There are even instances when the puppy has to be taught when to "disobey,' as when errantly commanded to step into danger zones. As you can imagine, the attention needs of the puppy ultimately required Janelle to reschedule her day so more time could be focused on careful training.  If she had not been home schooling, the amount of her solid attention could not have happened. 

      The trainers are not left alone to their own devices, however.  There are weekly meetings that the puppy and caregiver attend where dog-handling techniques are taught.  Janelle will explain what goes on at these sessions:

      "We worked as a group (about 20 or so).  An experienced leader managed what the group would be working on and assisted us with anything we needed help on. We worked a lot on what we were training at home so that our leader could see how we performed it and how the dog was responding. We also would switch dogs for about 10-20 minutes and we would work with someone else's dog so that the dogs would be comfortable with all sorts of different people training them. Every couple of months we would switch dogs for about a week and be responsible for training another. This helped the dog become comfortable in a different setting and learn to follow another person's training. Twice a month we would go on "field trips". Our dogs needed to get used to different outings and circumstances. We would go to the Tulip Festival, the movies, on a hike, a scavenger hunt in the mall, all sorts of different locations."


      After a short time, Janelle found it was only natural to grow quite close to the family puppy and because of that, would begin to dread what must come next.  When the dog reached a certain stage of training and obedience, a trip was made to Boring, Oregon, where the young dog would be left for his session at 

canine college.  This was just the first stage of letting go. It wasn't easy but it was inevitable.  By the time the Lefor family welcomed their 3rd dog into the household for training, Janelle was ready to take over the majority of the responsibilities.  Of course with that greater commitment came stronger attachment.   Janelle has provided a personal description of what it was like to leave her puppy for the next level of drill.


A few years after we had trained our 2nd guide dog I asked my parents if I now could train a guide dog of my own. She was a beautiful yellow lab named Lottie. She and I grew to be best friends. She would follow me around the house and always wanted to be in the same room as I. After the training I could provide,  I gave her back to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus to be able to go on further in her training and learn to work with an actual blind person. A few months after, I received a phone call that Lottie had passed all her training and she was ready for graduation. As the day approached closer I had mixed feelings. This was the day I was going to be able to see my best friend again, but also this was the day I would have to give her away for good. I was going to have to give up my best friend so she could go and help someone else and become her best friend. When we arrived at the campus and they brought her in the room, Lottie broke all her commands that she was taught just so she could run to me! After a few minutes of excitement she walked over to her new owner, Christine, and curled up beside her. This is when I knew that in her heart she would always have a place for me, but she knew that I was no longer her owner and that she belonged to someone else now.

   I had a few hours to talk with Christine, the lady who now would be receiving my dog. As I talked to her she kept on telling me "thank you" and how I had trained a wonderful dog. 
               When the graduation ceremony started I was told that I would be the first person to speak and then gift Christine with her dog. I started off shaky trying to hold back the tears, knowing that if they began flowing, they would not stop. Regardless, I wrapped up my speech with tears streaming down my face. As I handed over Lottie's leash to her new owner, Christine wrapped her arms around me and started to cry. This is when I really knew what I had done. I had helped someone else who could not help themselves. Even though giving away my dog, my best friend, was one of the hardest things I  ever had to do, and though there were  yet many days and nights of crying to follow, I never realized how greatly this would impact and help someone's life. All the time and effort I had put into Lottie was used for more than I could have ever imagined. 

"Once a person has made a commitment to a way of life, she puts the greatest strength in the world into it. It's something we call heart power. Once a person has made this commitment, nothing will stop her short of success."

Vincent "Vince" Lombardi (1913-1970);