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Guide Dogs of the Desert receives $25K Impact Grant

Guide Dogs of the Desert is one of just 13 schools in the nation certified to prepare dogs for the blind and visually impaired.

The canine companions are provided to people across the country at no charge. Saturday, a graduation ceremony was held for the newly-trained dogs who will go home with a companion. During the event, the organization also received a $25,000 Impact Grant check from the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation.

Kelsey Pleasant is excited to be paired with her new, custom-trained guide dog named Sandy. It is a life-changing partnership, allowing Pleasant-- who is blind-- to navigate the world with confidence.

"Oh my gosh. The moment I met him, he just gave me tons and tons of kisses. And he loved it. And I loved him," she said.

Over the last eight months, Sandy received specialized training at the Guide Dogs of the Desert campus in Whitewater, where the standard poodle learned how to help someone who is visually impaired with a variety of situations.

"They're crossing streets; they're going through buildings; they're going up and down stairs; they're doing all sorts of things; going past distractions; and making sure they're able to perform all these tasks for someone who has absolutely no sight whatsoever," Michal Anna Padilla, the director of training, said.

It's a partnership that begins long before the visually impaired ever meet their dogs. Guide Dogs of the Desert breeds, raises, and trains all its dogs on site.

"This is the most we're asking any dog to do. We're asking them to take away a lot of their own instincts. Don't go play with that dog; don't go chase that squirrel; pay attention all the time. It's really intense," Padilla said.

Sandy is named after Sanford "Sandy" Reed, a supporter of the nonprofit, whose life was tragically cut short when he was struck by a car in Palm Desert in 2020. The onsite nursery is also named after him, where puppies begin their journey in a comfortable and stress-free environment with around-the-clock attention by staff and volunteers.

The organization needs volunteer puppy raisers. A puppy raiser takes the puppies for about 18 months, and teaches them the basics. And then the puppy returns to campus where they learn formal training to become guide dogs.

Clients incur no cost to receive and train with a guide dog, thanks to the generosity of donors.

"Donations are huge, because even though this is super labor-intensive and very expensive, all of our services are at no cost to our students," Padilla said.

The public was invited to attend a special graduation ceremony for five of the guide dogs, including Sandy. Pleasant is taking Sandy home with her to Oregon, and trusting him with her life.

"He is very much a necessity. I just feel really honored to have him, and I feel like he's a really good match for me," Pleasant said.

To learn more about the organization, raising a guide-dog puppy, or how to contribute, visit

Article Topic Follows: Impact Grant

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Peter Daut


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