WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (WJW) — Rusty is bored, and that’s a good thing for a leader dog in training.
When a leader dog is like this, they are not easy to distract by the noise you may find in a busy place like the West End YMCA. But when it’s time to work, they’re ready.
It’s skills like this that 2023 Remarkable Women finalist Linda Lindeman-DeCarlo, who goes by Linde, has already taught 19 other dogs to do.
“When I started with the puppy program, I figured I’d raise a puppy and that would be the end of it. Here I am 20 years later. It becomes a lifestyle. This is what I do, I can’t imagine not doing it,” Linde said.
A leader dog has to stay on task because a blind person depends almost totally on the dog guiding them in many situations, like finding an elevator and the button they need to push.
Rusty and all the other dogs Linde’s trained over the years are with her 24/7.
Linde said it’s a big commitment, and one she says she couldn’t do without the support of those around her.
“Everybody cooperating and allowing us to fulfill our mission has been a big part of our success,” Linde said.
Linde’s dogs get to experience a lot. She works with children, teaching them eye safety and how to act around working dogs. She also rings the bell at a busy store at Christmas time in a crowd and travels through a crowded airport to teach the dog how to ride on an airplane.
Of course, teaching a working dog to not do two of their favorite things, playing with children and running after balls, is very important too. There’s no better place to train for that than with Linde’s other passion, supporting youth sports at the Catholic Youth Organization where she volunteers as a commissioner and umpire.
“So he’s got to learn one; I’m not going to be with him every second and number two; to keep his cool with all these activities and bouncing balls, running kids, whistles, buzzers, cheering, clapping and all that going on,” Linde said.
But the CYO also gives her an opportunity to teach young people that there is something out there that’s greater than the game.
“If a kid falls on the ground, you pick them up whether they’re on your team or not, and we see a lot of that in CYO because these kids understand that this is the mission. It’s about good sportsmanship and Christianity,” Linde said.
After a year of training with her and experiencing the noises and busyness of life, Rusty will leave Linde’s care and go to advanced leader dog training in Michigan.
Linde said she has always loved dogs, but more importantly, she absolutely loves people.
The smile these dogs bring to the blind, that can now live more mobile and active lives with a dog by their side, is what it’s all about.
“My first puppy that graduated was my first puppy that I raised and I became friends with the person who received my puppy. One time she told me, ‘I can’t believe the gift you’ve given me,'” Linde said, wiping away tears.
The dogs Linde has trained for the blind are all over the world. The handful who didn’t do well in advanced training have become therapy dogs for veterans or emotional support dogs for the courts.
Linde doesn’t think she does anything special, she says helping others is just what you’re supposed to do with your life.
To learn more about the Lions Clubs and guide dogs, click here.