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Training man's best friend

Saugus High School student helps prepare guide dogs for the visually impaired

Posted: March 17, 2009 9:47 p.m.
Updated: March 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Karlan English walks around Saugus High School with Jennarae, a Labrador retreiver he is training as a guide dog for the visually impaired.

 

Karlan English feels a special connection to guide dogs.

"I get to love these dogs and be a part of their lives," said English, a 17-year-old senior at Saugus High School and the youngest member of a family who raises guide dogs for the visually impaired. "They have become a big part of me, and I consider myself really lucky."

English and his family have raised guide dogs in Saugus for more than 20 years and will be featured in a short documentary in the Christian 168 Film Festival in Glendale April 3 and 4.

"It's a great story to tell," said Karlan's mother, Pam English. "People will get to see a small glimpse of the beautiful transformation we get to see while raising these dogs and helping them reach their destiny."

The English family is an active affiliate of Guide Dogs of America, a nonprofit organization that offers free mobility services to qualified blind and visually impaired individuals.

"This work is addicting," English said. "The process is filled with such a deep purpose, you can't get enough of it once you start."

The transformation from puppy to a full grown, working guide dog doesn't happen overnight.

The English family explained that the process starts when they take in an 8-week-old puppy and raise it as the family pet, teaching the dog basic obedience and social skills while also giving the animal a lot of love and affection.

At 18 months old, the dog must be transferred to the official Guide Dogs of America school campus, located on 7 and one-half acres in Sylmar, where official training begins.

"Then comes the hard part because you have to give up what has essentially become a member of your family," said Bob English, Karlan's father. "But this is also the best part, because now the dog will be partnered with someone who really needs them to live.

It's bittersweet, because that dog has a destiny and you've helped fulfill it."

At the school, the dog is paired with a person in need of a guide.

"The graduation ceremony is the moment it all comes together," Pam English said, "When you hear recipients say how grateful they are that the dog you raised has brought them a whole new life filled with hope, mobility and independence - it's beautiful."

Karlan is in charge of bringing up the newest member to the English family, a six-month-old Labrador retriever named Jennarae.

"This is the first dog that is totally my responsibility, and the bond I've made with her has already taught me so much," Karlan English said.

English brings Jennarae to school with him every day, where students and teachers alike are delighted by the wag of her tail.

"She goes everywhere I go, and people love to see her," Karlan said, "I'm going to miss her, but I understand the process and that she has a big purpose in life - by helping people live theirs."

"Guided: A Tail of Love" by director Frank Lozano will show throughout the two-day faith-based film festival and will highlight the English family, as well as other volunteer guide dog families in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Lozano described his documentary as "a story of unconditional love and how people can give back really big ... because you have to love something enough to be able to give it away."

For more information on the 168 Film Festival, visit www.168project.com.

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