Dog of the Day: Zoey

Zoey with her owner, Consuelo Johnson

Zoey with her owner, Consuelo Johnson Photo by Trip Burns.

Gallant Hearts, a non-profit organization that trains guide dogs for the blind, recently donated its first guide dog, a female Doberman named Zoey, to Consuelo Johnson, a former Jackson resident who currently lives in Horn Lake, Miss. Gallant Hearts received Zoey as a puppy as a donation from Memphis Doberman Rescue in Memphis, Tenn.

"Puppies (we receive) stay with a raiser in someone's home for 12 to 16 months," Gallant Hearts Executive Director Rebecca Floyd said. "During that time they learn good house manners and receive obedience training and socialization. They wear a vest saying 'Guide Dog in Training' and go anywhere dogs are allowed to go."

When Gallant Hearts employees received Zoey back from her raiser, she was sent into training as a guide dog. Gallant Hearts' guide dog trainer, Hattiesburg native Ryan Burley, is the organization's only paid employee, the rest being volunteers. Burley trained Zoey to stop at steps and curbs, lead her owner around obstacles, obey commands such as forward, right, left, in and out, ride escalators and go through revolving doors. He also taught her to learn routes to get her owner around and to stop in an event such as a car running a red light and move her owner out of the way.

Gallant Hearts usually has four dogs in its training program at a time. The organization has a male boxer that is almost ready to be given to a blind person and three Dobermans that are still in training. Gallant hearts gets new dogs both as donations from animal-rescue shelters as well as from its own breeding program. Training for guide dogs usually costs between $35,000 to $50,000, but Gallant Hearts is able to train dogs for only $17,900, thanks to its many volunteers helping keep costs down. Dogs that have completed training are given to qualifying blind people free of charge.

Floyd spoke with Johnson this morning and said that she and Zoey are doing well; she and Zoey are getting used to the apartment they are living in, and Johnson is preparing to take Zoey out on a shopping trip.

Gallant Hearts is starting a pledge program that will allow people willing to help the center to pledge a certain amount of donation money per month. For information, call Gallant Hearts at 601-853-6996, visit their website at www.gallanthearts.org or email Rebecca Floyd at rfloyd@gallanthearts.org.

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