July 11, 2012 - It might have looked like he was just there to have fun at the Seymour Celebration like everyone else, but little Derby was actually working hard to someday become the eyes of a person who cannot see.
Oxford resident Tracy Eubanks brought Derby, who’s training to be a guide dog, to the Seymour Celebration in order to help socialize him. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Derby is a 3˝-month-old yellow labrador retriever being trained by Oxford Village resident Tracy Eubanks as part of the Leader Dogs for the Blind program based in Rochester Hills.
"I've always wanted to do this to give back to the community and teach my kids that it's important to help other people, not just think about yourself," she said.
Eubanks will be training Derby for the program until June 23, 2013 when she gives him back, so that he can hopefully be paired with someone who needs his unique skills.
"I believe Leader Dogs for the Blind when they say that it's really hard to turn them in, but it's even harder to get the call that they didn't make it," she said.
Eubanks is doing everything in her power to ensure that little Derby makes the cut as a guide dog. "He's doing great," she said. "I walk him around town and a lot of the stores and restaurants let me in."
Eubanks is particularly grateful for the support Viktor Paljusaj, owner of the 24th Street Sports Tavern, has shown. His was the first restaurant that allowed Derby in.
"Derby's always welcome there," she said.
McDonald's and Meijer have also been very accepting of Derby's presence.
"I did have a couple of businesses say no, but I try not to get discouraged," she said. "I just move on to another business. I can understand how some don't want dogs."
Eubanks brought Derby to the Seymour Celebration in order to expose him to as many people and other dogs as possible.
"The most important aspect of puppy-raising is socializing the animal," she said. "The more events and the more places you take them to, the more likely they are to (be accepted into) the program.
"Carnivals, malls, restaurants, museums, movie theaters, anywhere you can take them, anywhere they'll allow you in, that's where you go. Businesses that allow these animals in are a great asset to Leader Dogs for the Blind."
This is Eubanks' first time training a guide dog.
"I filled out an application on-line and I actually was approved the next week," she said. "I received my puppy a week later."
"They are in desperate need of puppy-raisers right now," Eubanks noted.
She named her puppy after the Kentucky Derby, which occurred between the time she received her approval letter and the day she picked up her adorable pooch.
So far, Eubanks is absolutely loving the experience. "It's extremely hard, but rewarding," she said. "It's 24/7. They always have to be on a leash. You can never, ever take them off the leash unless they're in an enclosed area."
Eubanks wished to remind folks not to pet a guide dog-in-training unless the handler gives permission.
"Always ask before you reach down to pet them," she said. "That goes for puppies and the Leader Dogs themselves. Always ask the owner."
For more info about Leader Dogs for the Blind, please visit www.leaderdog.org
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.