A non-profit that serves the visually-impaired and has been funded mostly through private donations for 50 years, recently received its first federal grant to aid veterans hurt in combat.
The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation has placed more than 1,400 German shepherds in the United States and Canada. There are 300 of them in Connecticut.
Eyewitness News looked into intense training that transitions them into protectors and companions.
Jacqueline Rennebohm and her Fidelco guide dog Jewel have been inseparable since they were paired up about a year ago.
“She has literally allowed me to have my independence without a skip and a beat,” Rennebohm said. “I wouldn't know what I would do without her in the sense that I would like to live a life like anybody else have.”
Rennebohm said she began losing her vision when she was five years old. She added it progressively became worse and in her 20s she realized she needed some help.
“Literally, every year I'm losing and losing vision,” Rennebohm said. “We're going through this interview right now and I completely don't see you at all."
Her guide dog was bred, raised and trained through the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which exclusively works with German shepherds. Last month, the non-profit received a $100,000 dollar federal grant to train two dogs for wounded veterans.
Training for Fidelco guide dog is extremely labor-intensive. It takes about 15,000 hours over two years.
Tommy Mourad, who is the training director at Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, said the dogs are highly-skilled and can navigate through a typical day with ease.
“Going to college, navigate college campus, go to work, take care of kids, help them put kids on the bus,” Mourad said.
Beyond all of those tasks, they become beloved companions.
“They're closer to their guide dog than they are their spouse, and it's a 24-hour relationship,” Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation CEO Eliot Russman said. “When the dog is in harness, it's working. When the dog is out of harness, it's a family member."
“Her relationship with me has definitely blossomed into a reality where I feel like I'm cared for and any girl likes to be pampered, any girl,” Rennebohm said.
While it takes $45,000 to train each guide dog, they are given to clients at no cost.
The Fidelco guide dogs were at Eversource Hartford Marathon Bushenell Park on Saturday where they participated in the event.
For more on the Eversource Hartford Marathon, click here.
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