Delivering Dogs in Your Area

By Peggy O'Dell

Published in: Update - Issue 2 - 2017 »   

Nowadays, you can get almost anything your heart desires delivered directly to your door. From Alaskan king crab legs and designer shoes to best-selling books and vintage cookie jars, we all love when the delivery truck stops in front of our houses. For qualified Leader Dog clients, however, it’s the white Leader Dog van in their driveway that makes the best delivery of all: independence in the form of a highly trained Leader Dog.

“Home deliveries are a great option for some people who have other commitments such as families, jobs, medical conditions or special home circumstances,” said Leader Dog Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) Kevin Ihrke. “We try to do two or three home deliveries from each class.”

To qualify for a home delivery, the client must first be able to independently travel. The admissions committee will review their orientation and mobility, and if accepted, they will be put on a list to be reviewed by the training teams. Once a client has been matched with a dog, a Leader Dog representative will work out the delivery details with the client.

Close-up photo of Lee Anne smiling at the camera and wearing a teal tank top. Next to her is golden retriever Leader Dog Ava, whose mouth is open

Lee Anne Atkinson first heard about home delivery in 1991 when she was on the Leader Dog campus receiving her first dog. “I wouldn’t have qualified for home delivery then because I hadn’t gone through the training on campus yet, but when I was ready for my second dog, and was a busy mom to four kids, I applied for the program and was so happy to have my dog brought to me,” she said.

Now an empty nester, Lee Anne received her third dog, Ava, a golden retriever, via home delivery last fall. “My boyfriend was recovering from surgery at the time so he couldn’t take care of my retired dog, Jazz, while I was gone. Home delivery worked out great for us.”

When GDMI Linda Fisher arrived with her new dog, Lee Anne was waiting with a list of 21 things she wanted to work on. Lee Anne enjoys walking, so her list included working on routes to her doctor, local grocery store and around her downtown area. “One of the benefits of home delivery is the one-on-one training. My list was similar to the travel training I would have gotten on campus, but it was custom tailored to me. It’s definitely easier to teach a dog a new route when you have an instructor there, too.”

The instructor generally stays with the client anywhere from seven to 14 days, depending on their specific needs. During that time they will work with them up to eight hours a day.

After two successful experiences with home delivery, Lee Anne said she feels blessed that Leader Dog is able to offer the service to their clients.

James stands outdoors on a brick road in front of a red wooden cart with the words City Mail Cart on it. Lying down in front of James is yellow lab and golden retriever cross Leader Dog Kellen, who is in his leather Leader Dog harness. Kellen is looking up at James

James Torgerson didn’t plan on having a home delivery when he arrived on campus to receive his second dog, but a combination of illness and other issues training with the dog sent him home early—without a dog.

“I had already retired my [Leader] Dog Polaris to a wonderful family, so I figured I would just brush up on my cane skills while I waited for them to find my new dog. They told me when they did, they would bring him right to me,” James said.

It was seven months before he got the call that they had found the right dog for him. After months of cane travel, he was happy to start working with his energetic new Leader Dog, Kellen. “Cane travel is so much slower than walking with a dog that I felt like I lost my stamina and was out of shape. When I first started walking with Kellen, I actually had to stop every few blocks to catch my breath.”

James built up his stamina while Kellen worked on ignoring distractions by travelling around numerous construction sites in James’ small town. All the different sights, sounds and smells proved to be the perfect environment for James to learn how to help Kellen focus.

James admits he missed the social aspect of being on campus, but he appreciated having the instructor’s undivided attention and expertise to work with Kellen in his home environment.

“Kellen is a great dog, but he can be challenging at times. When the instructor left, I was confident I could continue to work with Kellen on my own,” he said.

Sandy is smiling and walking toward the camera on the side of a road with her yellow lab Leader Dog Aero walking next to her in leather Leader Dog harness

Sandy Falardeau was looking forward to her trip to the Leader Dog campus to meet her new dog, Aero. A true “people person” at heart, she was also looking forward to meeting the other people in her training class. Unfortunately, she was forced to cancel her trip when she was sidelined by an injury. “I was so disappointed at first, but when GDMI Kevin Ihrke called me and said ‘How about if I come to you?’ I said yes right away.”

Kevin spent nine days working with Sandy and Aero in Bay City, Michigan. The retired teacher experienced firsthand the advantages of training in her home environment. “It really was nicer working from home, except for the food. The food at Leader Dog is great!” she laughed. “We did everything we would have done on campus and spent a lot of time on country travel. The only thing we couldn’t do here was train on escalators, because we don’t have any in town. But that’s OK, I like elevators better anyway.”

Sandy felt she bonded fast with Aero. “She adapted to me and my lifestyle very quickly. She’s perfectly patterned to my life now. When Kevin left I was confident that I had learned everything I needed to get back to my busy life.”

GDMI Kevin agreed. “Sandy accomplished everything she needed to be successful in a shorter amount of time. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Sandy and Aero, and I wish them nothing but happiness from here on out.”

If you think a home delivery might be an option for you or you would like to learn more, please contact client services at 248/218.6211 or email