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Guide Dogs Star At Lions Benefit

Hugh Reilly, a volunteer with the Guard Dog Foundation, brought 4-month-old Guf, a celebrity dog, to the Lions Club Spring Fling at the Seawanhaka Yacht Club on April 27. Guf is a guide dog puppy-in-training, and was named after the TV show “Growing Up Fisher.” He is being sponsored by the cast of the show seen on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC. It is the story of a blind lawyer, newly divorced by his wife, who gets his first seeing eye dog, Elvis, a yellow lab, as a start toward a new kind of independence. Previously, his wife, son and brother, his partner in their law business, have acted as his eyes.  

The story is “eye-opening” for a view into the life of a blind person, and John Brennan, the speaker at the Lions benefit shared his own experience with his guide dog, Bosco, a black lab he has been paired with for nearly two years, since July 2012.

Brennan, who has retinitis pigmentosa, lost his vision gradually and now he is totally blind. Brennan served with the US Army Signal Corps during the Vietnam War, from 1967 to ‘69. He worked in Radio Relay Communications and taught at Fort Gordon in Georgia.

Although his wife, Susan, and daughter, Stephanie encouraged him to get a guide dog, he wasn’t interested until he attended a VA event and met a lady who brought along a guide dog.

“One day, tired of walking with a white cane and tripping over things, or on someone’s arm, I wanted to be independent and thought it was time to get a guide dog,” said Brennan.

Then he met Bosco and they were a match. “He and I just work so well together. Now to get a cup of coffee at the bakery, or get piazza, go to the doctor’s and to the fish store, I don’t need anyone,” he said.

His daughter teaches special education in Pennsylvania. “We give classes on using guide dogs at her school. I feel useful. There is nothing like it,” Bennan said, adding that he is “thankful every day” for the people who trained Bosco so well.

“We have three cats and two sleep with him, one at his back and one at his feet; the others sleep on our bed. It is incredible they all like each other. Before we were cat people. Now we love dogs. If he decides he doesn’t want to work, they all ask, ‘Is he okay? Should we take him to the vet?’ He’s such a wonderful dog, I can’t say enough.” Brennan added, “He’s a great fellow to be with — my boy Bosco.”

When Brennan talked to the guests at the spring party he added that he used to get cabin fever and wanted to get out, but said walking with a white cane has it’s hazards: garbage cans and doorsteps that made independence difficult.

While Bosco sat at his feet, event co-chair Jerry Lalonde asked guests to donate funds to the Lions to sponsor a guide dog. He said, “You get nothing for it. Just tell the check-out person you are donating.” He asked people to put up their hands to donate money and people did.

Lalonde said they have donated for two dogs a year for the last eight years. He auctioned off a list of items to raise the needed funds, including a sail for six on the Christeen, with dinner at Jack Halyards for six, which John Palmer, Esq. won. Dr. Bob Gottlieb won a Mort Künstler artist’s proof of his newest print Mr. Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg for $1,800. The artist traditionally donates a print, which garners a good price every time.

The two men won other items, as it seemed they were out to ensure that the raffle was a success.

One of the last items was a one-year membership to the Sagamore Yacht Club, including a discount on their Junior Sailing Club, won by “Dr. Bob.” About half a dozen SYC members were there, including Lalonde and co-chair Doug DiRossi, who helped in the auction by holding up items for viewing, including a sample bouquet to be sent monthly to the winner, from English Country Flowers, which is owned by another event co-chair, Cindy and George Mudford.

The Lions put themselves into their work for helping the blind and the Guide Dog Foundation that helps them. For information about the Guide Dog Foundation call 631-930-9000.

FYI: Guf, named after the show, is a yellow Labrador Retriever who will be cared for by a “puppy raiser” until he’s 18 months old, at which time he’ll join the intensive training program at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in New York.

Though guide dogs are always free to visually impaired people, the total cost of raising and training a single dog is about $55,000. NBC’s sponsorship offsets that cost for raising little Guf. “Growing Up Fisher” stars Jenna Elfman and J.K. Simmons as a blind father, based on executive producer DJ Nash’s own family.