Dogs are smart, loving and adorable creatures. For some people, dogs are more than that. They are superheroes that change the lives of those who need them most.Local Naples resident Jim Rigg experienced this life-changing moment firsthand when he was matched Keebler, a fun-loving, yellow Lab and trained guide dog.
Before a doctor summarily pronounced Rigg legally blind in 1993 and took away his driver’s license, the swimming pool builder knew that something was definitely not right. From night blindness to deterioration of his central vision and color blindness, a mysterious lack of blood supply to his retinas caused worsening vision that he did not want to face.
“The biggest obstacle was giving up the independence of driving and going wherever you want to,” said Rigg. “I just tried to figure out my way through life. Looking back now, it was pretty foolish of me. I didn’t even use a cane until a few years ago.”
After 25 years “figuring out his way through life” and with the strong support of his wife, he finally decided to apply for a guide dog. His wife got the ball rolling by contacting Southeastern Guide Dogs, the Palmetto-based nonprofit that breeds, trains and raises elite working dogs. After the application was filed, it took about eight months for Rigg to get the call letting him know he’d been matched with a new four-legged partner.
In May 2018, Rigg and Keebler spent three weeks training together at the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus. Since then they’ve continued to learn and grow together. Keebler has been on six flights and even attended a Broadway show. However, most days Rigg can be found playing the acoustic guitar or taking long walks around his neighborhood, knowing that obstacles will be no challenge for him and Keebler.
“Keebler is so smart,” shared Rigg. “All of the places we need to go are within walking distance of our house. I’ll tell Keebler, ‘We need to go to the store,’ and he’ll take us right to Publix. Other times I’ll say, ‘We need to go to the vet,’ and he takes us there. He knows where all the places around our house are.”
In addition to guide dogs like Keebler, Southeastern Guide Dogs also provides life-changing service dogs for veterans with PTSD and other disabilities, and skilled companion dogs for children with significant challenges such as vision loss or the loss of a parent in the military. All services are provided at no cost to recipients thanks to a network of generous donors.
Additionally, partners like Fromm Family Pet Food and Elanco allow guide and service dog graduates to receive premium pet food, monthly preventatives, vaccinations and yearly wellness visits free of charge as part of the most comprehensive alumni support program of any service dog school in North America.
Visit GuideDogs.org to learn more or to get involved with the organization. Opportunities include raising a puppy, volunteering on campus,hosting a breeder, participating in their annual Walkathon and fundraising.