Rochester Hills, Mich.-based Leader Dogs for the Blind has given 14,500 guide dogs to the blind and visually impaired since it was founded in 1939.
With financial support from Lions Club International groups around the United States and other fundraising organizations, the group has been able to do much more than simply give out dogs, however.
Len Quinn is a resident of Wisconsin, and a motivational speaker, who has been blind for about 15 years. He will be the keynote speaker at the second annual Lions Leader Dog Rally at the Fallston Fire Hall on Saturday.
Quinn, a graduate field representative for Leader Dogs for the Blind who travels around the country on behalf of the organization, will be there with Ginger, his 7-year-old golden retriever guide dog whom he obtained from Leader Dogs and has been his companion for five-and-a-half years.
Before Ginger, his companion was a yellow lab named Mikey who retired and then passed away last fall at age 13.
"We've given away 14,500 dogs and we have never charged for a dog; every dog is free," Quinn said during a telephone interview Monday.
The local event, which is being put on by Lions District 22-A, serving Harford County and the rest of Central Maryland, is a fundraiser for Leader Dogs.
It is an invitation-only event open to local Lions Club members and their guests.
"It's a real feel-good kind of event, and people bring their friends and family to find out about some of the things the Lions Club does," Linda Lupro, co-chair of the Leader Dog committee and a member of the Jarrettsville Lions Club, said.
She is chairing the event committee with June Livingston of the Fallston Lions Club.
Quinn said Lions Clubs raise about $2 million each year for Leader Dogs. The organization was founded by three members of Lions Clubs in the Detroit area, according to the Leader Dogs website.
Leader Dogs provides trained guide dogs to people who are blind, visually impaired and deaf. The organization gives free transportation and room and board to clients who come to Michigan for a 26-day program during which they train with the dog.
Dogs serving deaf clients are trained to read sign language.
Blind and visually impaired clients must know how to walk with a cane before being paired with a dog, and "we also are the only school of its type that has a mobility program, so that when people go blind, [we] teach them how to walk with a cane," Quinn said.
Leader Dogs also operates a free summer leadership training program for blind and visually impaired youths ages 16 to 17 to help them live independently, and provides voice-activated GPS units to everyone who receives a dog.
All operations and programs are funded by donations from Lions Clubs and other private donors.
"People have been very generous," Quinn said. "Foundations support us, individual givers."
Those who attend Saturday's fundraiser at the Fallston Fire Hall on Carrs Mill Road will be able to meet Quinn and Ginger, as well as a Leader Dog puppy being "started out" by a Churchville Lions Club member.
Ginger typically wears a sign indicating she is working and should not be petted, but she will be off work Saturday and can be petted when appropriate.
"They really like getting the attention when they're not working, and there will be some down time where people can scratch Ginger's ears," Lupro said.
Lupro said this year's Leader Dogs fundraiser will be the second for Lions District 22-A. Last year's event had "100 percent participation" from the district's 35 clubs, and raised about $6,000.
Lupro said organizers hope to exceed last year's fundraising target.
"We want to raise the bar, at least a little bit, each year," she said.
Anyone seeking more information can contact Lupro at 410-332-4808 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on Leader Dogs can be found at http://www.leaderdog.org.
Quinn lost his eyesight because of a diabetes-related complication known as diabetic retinopathy – people with diabetes lose their sight from the condition when blood vessels in the retina are damaged, according to the website of the National Eye Institute.
He often tells audiences he lost his eyesight to "stupidity," however, because he neglected to follow advice related to caring for his diabetes.
He said if he had, "I might need a big pair of glasses but I wouldn't have to walk with a dog."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun