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Mineola Residents Raise Funds for Guide Dogs

Funds to provide training for dogs in memory of Sandy Hook victims.

One would expect not many good stories coming in the wake of the elementary school shootings in Newtown, CT. However, a group of Mineola residents have taken it upon themselves, raising $9,000 to support a good cause and provide help to others in the wake of the tragedy.

After the shootings, many residents were left wondering what they could do; many, including Mineola Board of Education member Christine Napolitano reached out through Facebook asking that “just every day do a random act of kindness in the name of one of the kids,” fellow trustee Artie Barnett said.

Over 1,200 people responded to Napolitano’s call for good deeds, but Barnett wanted to go further.

“One night we were just kinda, a bunch of us were just talking and I was like ‘everyone’s looking to do something, why don’t we see if people want to throw in $10 a piece and over a few months we could raise enough to sponsor a guide dog’,” he said. “And the next morning I had a $10 bill in my inbox from one person and then two more people showed up at my door handing me money and off we went. This had nothing to do with the board or anything, this was just Facebook, you know, just the community.”

Called “Soto the Guide Dog Fundraiser,” the group’s original goal was to simply raise $6,000 for one dog for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, the group raised the funds ahead of schedule. It can take up to $55,000 to raise a dog from a puppy through adulthood and training.

“Just to get them born and into that first year of puppy raising is about $6,000,” Barnett said. “And then to go through the whole program of training them and training them with the people that get them, yeah it’s 55 grand in the end. So this is just six grand just to sponsor them to start off.”

The foundation then offered a deal: a second dog could go through the program at half-price, for an additional $3,000.

“We were originally just trying to raise $6,000 and then they offered us a second if we could raise $9,000 by New Year’s Eve, so we went for it,” Barnett said.

The group hit the extra mark three days before the deadline. There were no plans to continue collecting money after hitting the second mark. The foundation allows anyone who raises the $6,000 to name the dog, which in this case would be in memory of Vicki Soto, one of the first grade teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“We set a goal, we made our goal so stop it there,” said Barnett, who has worked with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in the past, raising two dogs: Willie in 2009 (currently working with a woman in Queens) and Basil in 2010.

“They just want you to socialize them, get them used to being around people, get them used to being around dogs, noises, machinery, cars, any number of things, get them used to stairs and elevators, just subways, trains, all the stuff that they’re going to have to deal with in everyday life; just expose them to it,” he said of what the foundation asked of him. “We’re not really training them, we’re just getting them to be calm, then they go into their final training when they teach them how to actually guide.”

According to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, the foundation breeds its own dogs, consisting of labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, lab/golden crosses and standard poodles. The dogs have to be completely suitable for blind, meaning that conditions such as allergies, aggression, “pulling” a handler, health, temperament intelligence and rearing are factored in. Only about 30 percent of the dogs make it through the program.

“It’s not an easy task, they don’t just (take) any dog,” Barnett said. “However, you may have a very strong dog, a hard puller, whatever, and those dogs end up, a lot of those dogs end up as vet dogs for the armed forces veterans as service dogs.”

For those dogs that do not make the cut, vet dogs will take 50 percent with another large percentage becoming “comfort dogs” that go to nursing homes, the Ronald McDonald house, or serve in the ATF or military.

“Somewhere theses dogs all end up performing some task,” Barnett said, noting that he did not know if he would raise one of the dogs he helped sponsor. “Raising one of these dogs is a massive time commitment.”

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Artie Barnett January 02, 2013 at 04:14 PM
I want to thank everyone who helped in this effort. As a result we will be sponsoring two Black Labradors to be named "Vicki" and "Soto". Thank you Chris for the inspiration, Pat and Cindy for pounding the cyber-pavement, Sharon and Anthony for your extreme generosity and John for your continuing efforts. We received donations from Illinois to Ohio to Texas to Hawaii....Ireland, England and Russia. The roots were in Mineola but the branches spread around the globe. It takes a community to raise a child.......or a Guide Dog.
Cindy Velez January 02, 2013 at 05:21 PM
It was so exciting to see so many people engaged in this effort, everyone's heart was in the right place. Our Mineola School community and everyones facebook connections just made our "family" grow a little more. Looking forward to seeing Vicki and Soto grow and guide in the near future! Thank you Artie for always finding a way to make these efforts a reality !

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