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Bringing up ‘Georgiana’

Patti Frost may be a former Mobile resident who currently lives in Knoxville, Tenn., but her heart is soundly in Butler County.

“Listen, I love Georgiana and Butler County. I’ve got relatives here – Sara and Larry Paige and Cumi Stuart. I was married at Welsey Chapel and we had our reception in the Industry Community Center,” Frost says with a fond smile, chuckling, “I always call ahead and place my order with Kendall’s BBQ when I am headed in this direction.”

She loves this part of the country so much, in fact, Frost named one of her dogs “Georgiana.”

And this is no ordinary dog, either.

Frost, a volunteer puppy raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Michigan, spent a year working with the Golden Retriever. She provided Georgiana with plenty of basic obedience training and opportunities to become socialized in every aspect of life a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person would need.

“I take the puppy when it’s six weeks old and care for and work with it for one year. Then the dog undergoes a thorough evaluation at Leader Dog headquarters, and if it ‘passes inspection,’ it undergoes an additional four to six months of training to be able to guide a blind person,” Frost explained.

The dogs train an additional month on campus with their new human companions, with travel, meal and lodging expenses all covered by Leader Dogs for the Blind. The dogs are provided at no cost to their humans.

Giving up an animal where an undeniable bond has developed is no easy feat, Frost admits.

“Oh, my husband and I both cried all the way to Leader Dog on the day we returned Georgiana to them. But the satisfaction of knowing I am helping put guide dogs out in the field with people who need them – that makes it all worth it. But it is still hard to say goodbye,” Frost said.

A former paralegal, Frost became interested in becoming a puppy raiser after seeing a documentary on the subject on “Animal Planet.” After doing some research, she took on her first puppy, also a Golden Retriever, “Frosty.”

“Unfortunately, Frosty turned out to have a joint problem which meant he was ineligible for additional training as a Leader Dog,” she said.

Puppy raisers has the first opportunity to take back dogs that are “career changed” like Frosty, and Frost said the family was happy to welcome Frosty back into the fold (the family owns several dogs and cats).

Today Frosty visits with school children in Knoxville, where he happily enjoys listening to stories as the youngsters practice their reading skills.

After training with her new companion, Georgiana is now serving as a guide dog for a visually impaired woman in Maryland.

Today Frost is training her third future Leader Dog, “Barefoot,” coincidentally her third Golden Retriever.

“You can request a specific breed – and most of the puppies which are channeled into this program are Labs, Shepherds or Retrievers – but we’ve just been willing to take whatever was available,” Frost said.

Barefoot, at seven-and-half-months of age, is a beautiful blonde who is inclined to “kiss” new acquaintances (“I have to break her of the licking”). During the interview with Frost, however, Barefoot sat quietly beneath the table and even took a little nap.

“She is a good girl, doing just what she is supposed to do,” Frost said with a fond smile.

Future Leader Dogs like Barefoot must learn all the basic commands such as “Sit,” “Down,” “Stay,” “Leave it,” “Give,” “Take,” “Park,” and “Off.”

“But the most important part of their training when they are with us is socialization,” Frost said. “We take them everywhere with us – restaurants, fireworks displays, amusement parks, on planes and boats. Mardi Gras in Mobile is a great experience to teach them to behave and respond in a very active and noisy environment.”

Frost also meets monthly with a “puppy counselor” to make sure the animal is on track in its training and socialization.

Each of these specially trained canines, once they have completed the process, is valued at $40,000. But Frost knows animals like Frosty, Georgiana and Barefoot are priceless in terms of the help and companionship they provide.

“There is a lot more involved in this than I realized, but I have to say I absolutely love doing it,” Frost said.

To learn more about Leader Dogs for the Blind, visit their website at www.leaderdogs.org.