For the last 13 months, Redding Police Chief Doug Fuchs and his German shepherd, Kato, have been almost constant companions. However, that’s about to change.
Fuchs and his family have been raising Kato to be a guide dog for the visually impaired since he was just 9 weeks old, but now it’s time for the pup to move on to the next phase of his training. That means it’s time to say goodbye.
Kato will spend the next six to nine months with a trainer from Connecticut’s Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, a nonprofit organization that places guide dogs across the United States and Canada. During this time, he will learn how to physically assist a blind or visually impaired person and then meet and train with his future owner.
Fuchs admits that he’s sad to part ways with Kato, but he’s proud to have participated in a program that helps people in need.
“For a few years, my family and I have been looking for a larger giveback,” he told The Redding Pilot. “It’s kind of a neat experience to be able to do something for someone you don’t know.”
Fuchs, a first-time volunteer puppy raiser, confessed that he was a little apprehensive about taking Kato to public places when he first started training him.
“I was worried about how others would react to the fact that I was showing up everywhere with a dog,” he explained.
However, the citizens of Redding were very welcoming to Kato.
“I was astonished by the graciousness of 99.9% of the people who I meet while I’m with Kato, whether it was at a restaurant, in Costco, at work or at a meeting,” he said.
Fidelco has trained and placed around 1,500 guide dogs, all German shepherds, since it was established in 1981. The organization places up to 70 dogs every year.
“We put 15,000 hours into every dog, spending $45,000 for each dog that is given to every client at no cost,” said Eliot Russman, Fidelco’s president and CEO. “This includes veterinary bills, emergency medical care training, placement and 10 years of follow-up.”
Russman told The News-Times that Fidelco is completely nonprofit and depends on its approximately 350 volunteers to help train and care for the dogs. He said that the organization is always looking for more people to help.
“I’d love my fellow citizens of Redding to raise dogs,” Russman said.
Fidelco only trains German shepherds, believing that the breed is uniquely suited for service work.
“We think German shepherds make the best guide dogs in the world,” Russman said. “They are bred to be working dogs. They are intelligent, and they can do many jobs.”
Fuchs said that training Kato was “incredibly rewarding” and he was impressed with all that Kato accomplished.
“He is not what you think of as a dog,” Fuchs said. “He is able to communicate what his needs are. He gets that we’re a team.”
Fuchs also said that he and his family will miss Kato so much that they are considering training another guide dog.
“When he’s not next to me, it’s odd,” he said.