SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – For many people, walking around the world without a service dog on hand is a scary thing. So the Southeast Palmetto Guide Dogs give visitors the opportunity to experience it for themselves.
Throughout the weekend, the Service Dog Training Center hosts “Beyond the Dark”, an interactive program demonstrating what life is like for visually impaired people and veterans struggling with PTSD and, most importantly , how a trained dog can transform their lives.
In the shows, guests are blindfolded and listen to simulations putting them in someone else’s shoes.
One is based on the life of Katie McCoy, associate director of philanthropy at Southeastern Guide Dogs. Blinded onlookers listened as she made a difficult journey through the city streets, running into hazards and nearly getting run over by a car because she had only her ears as a guide.
“So coming here, you can see that,” she said. “You and you experience it and experience the emotions that go with it.”
McCoy was born with impaired vision, so she has difficulty perceiving depth and cannot use peripheral vision or see anything at night. Before she started working with her guide dog Bristol, every day posed unimaginable challenges.
She explained to members of the public how her life is very different now, as her friend K9 allows her to travel easily and introduce her to new opportunities.
“She saved my life several times from being hit by cars,” McCoy said. “She allows me to get out and meet new people and do things that I may never have done before.”
Sean Brown, a veteran who also works with a service dog, shared a similar testimony with the crowd. The audience, blindfolded again, listened to the chaotic sounds of one of his night terrors bringing back disturbing memories of combat.
Her dog Lucky has been instrumental in bringing her peace and comfort when her PTSD threatens to throw her life off balance. Brown told listeners how Southeastern Guide Dogs has helped many veterans struggling with many of the same mental battles he fights, and the program has been key in saving many of them from losing their lives at the suicide.
A trainer from the program also spent part of the show answering questions about how service dogs operate around the world and demonstrated many of the key commands K9s are taught in order to keep their owners safe. .
Organizers have been doing this for a few years because the immersive experience between demonstrations and sensory elements makes these issues real for people who have no idea what it’s like to rely on a service dog.
“It gives you a whole sense of empathy that they’re going through a challenge and to interact with them and help them if you can.” Marian Lucia, one of the guests on Saturday’s “Beyond the Dark” show, said.
If you would like to donate to Southeastern Guide Dogs or apply to volunteer, you can learn how to do so by clicking here.
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