Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc.

Rating: 4.83 stars   66 reviews

Issues: Disabilities, Health, Human Services

Location: 4210 77th Street East Palmetto FL 34221 USA

Mission: Founded in 1982, Southeastern Guide Dogs creates and nurtures a partnership between a visually impaired individual and a guide dog, facilitating life''s journey with mobility, independence and dignity. All services - which include the breeding and training of dogs; on-campus instruction for the students; and lifetime follow-up for graduates - are provided free of charge. Our school is accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation, based in Reading, England, and is the only such guide dog school in the southeastern United States.
Programs: PAWS FOR INDEPENDENCE partners individuals with visual impairments with professionally trained guide dogs. Our certified trainers provide students with 26 days of individualized instruction at our Palmetto, Florida campus - and lifetime support and follow up. Currently we serve more than 800 active graduates. We provide the guide dogs, equipment, single-room lodging, all meals, outings, instruction and post-graduation support completely free of charge, thanks to the generosity of our important contributors. The average working life of a guide dog is eight years, and the majority of our graduates obtain multiple guide dogs from Southeastern Guide Dogs. The process of developing and serving a successful guide dog team takes an average of ten years (two years of training and eight years of post-graduation services) and approximately $60,000. Paws For Independence, like all programs at Southeastern Guide Dogs, receives no governmental funding. We rely solely on the generosity of people like you.
2012 Top-Rated Nonprofit
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Community Reviews

Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

As a guide dog user myself, I can honestly say that Southeastern Guide Dogs is one of the finist traning facilities in the USA. The entire staff work hard to see to it that not only do the dogs get the best training and treatment afforded but that the students and graduates are their number one concern. The grounds are set up to train for every situation and the students go through a series of different sceniros in order to assure that they can handle anything they come across in the real world working with their guide dog as a team. The school has people there to help even before you start your training to counsel you on what you need to do in order to obtain a guide dog, how to do it, and what is involved. Then once you have graduated they have a team of GAC (Graduate Advisory Council) that is there 24/7/365 to assist with any problems or questions you may have. I would have to say this is the number one school for anyone looking to get a guide dog and proud to say that I am a graduate myself.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

I am a graduate from this school in June 2007 and have been a guide dog user for several years now. I also serve on the GAC and look forward to doing more for them in the future.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

More PR, newspaper and club interviews and speakings. Bring in the public around the area and do a annual showing of the facilities and how the training is done and how the students live and learn on campus.

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

I have been a guide dog user for all my adult life. Over the years, I’ve had dogs from two schools. By far the best dogs I’ve had have been my last five – all Southeastern Guide Dogs. The level of training of these dogs is remarkable. Their personalities, temperament and abilities are outstanding. I want to commend the puppy raisers who give so tirelessly of their time and effort to help produce these amazing dogs and I want to commend the training staff at Southeastern for their exceptional accomplishments. I go to work every day with my dog by my side; traveling safely and independently. He is my guide, my companion and my friend. I have Southeastern to thank for him, for the training I received and for the follow up services I continue to receive. I know the school couldn’t do it without generous donors and I want to thank them as well and point out the value of their support to my ability to conduct an active and meaningful life.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

my abilities and those of my friends with visual impairments.

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

Of course, my dog. But beyond that, it's a warm, friendly place to be and I've found everyone extremely helpful and professional.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

warm, caring and professional.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

Expand its services to blind people -- a truly wonderful thing!

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2008-12-01

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Rating: 4 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

4 stars is a really good score from me. I'm not sure any organization would get 5 stars. I've always thought Southeastern has a great mission and program, but I've been most impressed with the improvements made the last couple of years. There has been a renewed commitment to quality that I have seen in terms of service to the students of the school; health and well being of the dogs; responsiveness to volunters; and, appreciation of donors. I hope Southeastern keeps up its good work.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

not only physical mobility and independence but self confidence and mental health of the people who receive guide dogs from Southeastern.

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

being able to get to know some people whose lives have been changed by its work.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

dedicated, hard working, and positive.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

at least triple the number of blind and visually impaired it serves each year.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009-9-01

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

As a Puppy Raiser for Southeastern I have been impressed with the support of the organization to the volunteers and the impact these sevices have on the blind community.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

very professional and caring people.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009-9-01

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Rating: 2 stars  

2 people found this review helpful

Over the last four years, I have spent countless hours as a volunteer for this organization in several areas -fundraising, office work, events and raising puppies. I greatly admire the mission they are attempting to accomplish. While revenues dropped and the economy is still not recovered, this organization has spent funds on many unnecessary 'trimmings' (expensive decorative fencing, landscaping, uniforms, etc), reduced the number of clients they serve (from 90 to 70 annually), increased the number of employees (from 52 to over 65), reduced contact with volunteers and donors, new taglines/logo colors (new stationery, vehicle signs, advertising, brochures, etc.), a life size statue in a brick paver 'garden', etc. While the publicly accessed areas of the 'Nursery' has seen many improvements, the other kennels are not air conditioned or even screened, so the dogs live in heat and insects. Many well experienced employees (some with 10+ years there) were dismissed (most without severance) to be replaced with college degreed young hires with NO experience in breeding, handling, training, or caring for dogs or experience with blind individuals for that matter. Approx. 250 puppies are bred and born every year - with only 70 becoming guide dogs. A handful of others become 'Gifted Canines'. Although a 5 year plan is in place, the first priority should have been their 'product' - the dogs, and the clients they serve. Instead, they have focused on 'Image' and being 'premier' and 'world-class', none of which are necessary to GIVE healthy, happy, well-trained guide dogs to blind individuals. There is little to no appreciation or even acknowledgement given to the hundreds of volunteers and no formal program is in place to support them all. As an accountant, I have noticed an oddity. While the Financial Statements (on their website) indicate 2008 Management and General Salaries total only $121,000, the IRS Form 990 indicates the Director of Finance earned over $99,000 and the new CEO earned (annualized) $120,000. Together, their salaries alone total over $210,000, so the numbers are skewed. While it makes the percentage of direct program costs look better, it is not accurate. Additionally, according to a local prominent foundation's current salary surveys of over 100 area non-profits, the CEO and Director of Finance are grossly overpaid for this size charity and their length of service. The vast majority of those serving on the board of directors aren't even Florida residents. Unfortunately, I and more than a few volunteers (some new, some long-time) are turning our attention elsewhere until this non-profit stabilizes.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the independence having a well trained guide dog affords a blind individual.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

focus on human relationships, hiring mature, experienced employees and compensating them well, get and stay in touch with the donor and volunteer base.

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the other volunteers I've met.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

mostly long-time employees and volunteers - some were obviously not in the right place, but most were well experienced caring people. The board members I met were totally out of touch.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

modernize the kennels and the dormitory rooms, improve volunteer relations, improve the breeding program to eliminate health issues.

Ways to make it better...

the board and management cared more about the dogs and much less about the elitist image they are 'buying'.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

the huge amounts of money being spent on non-essential costs and the lack of money beng spent on caring for the dogs.

One thing I'd also say is that...

I would stay involved with this group if I thought the dogs were well cared for and a priority. The Board of Directors has taken a path that leads them away from this priority. The warm, friendly, happy place it once was is gone.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009-9-01

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Southeastern Guide Dogs is committed to transparency and adheres to the highest ethical and professional standards – and invites any volunteer, donor or member of the public who has any questions or concerns to visit us in person, call, and/or review any aspect of our operation, including our dog care and training, student instruction and financial practices. The review contains a substantial number of misleading claims and material misstatements. The review incorrectly states that Southeastern Guide Dogs “revenues dropped.” Thanks to the generosity of our donors and increased outreach, Southeastern Guide Dogs’ revenues for Fiscal Year 2008-2009 have seen a healthy increase over the previous year and will be publicly reported once our auditing firm completes its independent review of our finances. With careful oversight by our Board of Directors, the organization is thoughtfully applying available resources to increasing both the quality and the breadth of services provided to individuals with visual impairments. The review incorrectly states that the organization “has spent funds on many unnecessary ‘trimmings’ (expensive decorative fencing, landscaping, uniforms, etc.)” and later on added “new taglines/logo colors (new stationery, vehicle signs, advertising, brochures, etc.), a life size statue in a brick paver 'garden', etc.” to the list. We are gratified to report that each one of these projects has been funded either by designated funds or specific grant awards, or through the generosity of advertising vendors who have provided their goods and services to us at no charge. That, of course, means that the dollars our donors so generously provide to us through their monthly or annual gifts are applied directly to mission fulfillment, including breeding, whelping, raising, harness training and placing our wonderful dogs with our students with visual impairments. The statement that our organization “reduced the number of clients they serve from 90 to 70 annually” is extremely misleading. Over the past year, we have made significant improvements to both the quality and scope of our services. They include: • A 3 to 1 student to trainer ratio, which enables our staff to provide highly personalized instruction and services to all of our new students, a laudable achievement that should be celebrated rather than criticized. • A new Graduate Services program that provides ongoing, proactive services – including home visits and consultation – to our active graduates. • During the past fiscal year, we provided guide dogs to 70 new students, provided in-home follow up training services to 155 graduates, and provided 846 graduate phone consultations. The review incorrectly states our dogs “live in heat and insects.” All of our kennels are properly ventilated for optimum temperature control. And the constant rotation of fresh air in our kennels minimizes the risk of airborne bacteria that may be harmful to our dogs. We control insects throughout the facilities and grounds through the use of a pest control company that utilizes “green” products that maximize the health and well being of our staff, volunteers and animals. The review incorrectly states that “many well experienced employees (some with 10+ years there) were dismissed (most without severance) to be replaced with college degreed young hires with NO experience in breeding, handling, training, or caring for dogs or experience with blind individuals for that matter.” We are proud to adhere to the highest professional standards in all of our practices, including our hiring and staff development practices. We consider a variety of factors in all of our hiring decisions, including education and experience – but not age. Our staffing patterns reflect both longevity (for example, our Director of Training has worked for us for more than 21 years) as well as exceptional experience with breeding, handling, training and caring for the dogs (for example, our trainers have 178 years of combined dog-training experience) and extensive experience with serving the blind community. The review correctly states that our organization has increased the number of employees from 52 to over 65 but fails to indicate the additional staff includes a full-time campus veterinarian and several veterinary technicians, kennel assistants, and guide dog trainers and mobility instructors – all essential to the fulfillment of our mission. All of us at Southeastern Guide Dogs are genuinely proud of the care and attention we provide to our students and dogs. The review incorrectly states we have “reduced contact with volunteers and donors” and that “there is little to no appreciation or even acknowledgement given to the hundreds of volunteers and no formal program is in place to support them all.” In fact, we have greatly expanded contact with all stakeholders through regular communications that include both direct communications (e.g., through staff outreach) as well as traditional media (e.g., newsletters and annual reports); electronic media (e.g., our website and blogs for puppy raisers, graduates and breeder hosts); and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. We have several formalized programs to support our volunteers, including a new Volunteer Retention and Recognition program and an expanded Puppy Raising Services Department that provides ongoing support and recognition to our 250 puppy raisers. The statement that “approx. 250 puppies are bred and born every year - with only 70 becoming guide dogs and a handful of others becoming 'Gifted Canines'” is misleading. While our breeding to placement ratio is consistent with North American industry standards, our Gifted Canines program places a significant number of dogs that do not meet the specific criteria required for guide dog work into alternative careers such as therapy and law-enforcement careers. During the last fiscal year, we placed 60 dogs into such important careers. The statement that the numbers reported in our Audited Financial Statements and Form 990 are “skewed” are grossly misleading. We are happy to discuss the numbers reported – and made publicly available – with anyone who has bona fide questions regarding them. The claim that ”according to a local prominent foundation's current salary surveys of over 100 area non-profits, the CEO and Director of Finance are grossly overpaid for this size charity and their length of service” is unsubstantiated by the facts. Executive compensation is reviewed each year by a strong and independent board comprised of community leaders with assistance from an outside, independent compensation expert and in-depth compensation studies. Finally, the statement that “the vast majority of those serving on the board of directors aren't even Florida residents” is both incorrect and also highly misleading. As listed on our public website, nine of our 14 board members – 64% - are Florida residents – but since Southeastern Guide Dogs, as implied by our name, serves individuals throughout a 12-state region, it is certainly necessary and appropriate to have the entire Southeast represented on the board.