Blindfolded Kevin Vasquez, CEO of animal health care business Butler Schein, got a small taste of what it’s like to be sight impaired, and how capable guide dogs are.
Vasquez felt at ease being guided across the room by Baldwin, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown on Friday.
“I was a little apprehensive at first, but Baldwin took control and I developed a confidence in him,” said Vasquez, who had presented a $56,000 check to the foundation’s America’s VetDogs program that morning. “I knew he’d take care of me.”
Employees from the company were inspired by Eileen Scheiner, a sales representative at Butler Schein and puppy raiser with the foundation, to raise funds for America’s VetDogs, providing guide dogs to disabled veterans for mobility and independence.
Fifteen years ago, Scheiner adopted Jack, a then-7-year-old retired guide dog, and found it to have helped her then-8-year-old son, William, with Asperger’s syndrome and a sleeping disorder.
“Jack would alert us if William left the house,” said Scheiner, 53, of Wantagh. “That dog helped my son in ways medications just couldn’t.”
Two of the 11 puppies she had raised over the years have gone on to help soldiers — one who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a roadside bomb, and another who was blinded while serving his country.
“I see firsthand what these dogs are capable of,” said Scheiner, who had adopted retired guide dogs or raised puppies since 1997. “I’m glad to be able to help these vets.”
Nearly 900 employees from Butler Schein, a subsidiary of Henry Schein Inc., a Melville company that provides medical, dental and animal health care products and services, raised $28,000 through fundraisers, including ticket raffles, concerts and sporting events. The company matched their efforts.
Wells Jones, CEO of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, said it costs nearly $55,000 to breed, train and place one assistance dog with a veteran. However, services are provided at no cost to the veteran for the rest of their life.
Brian Pearce, of Mechanicsville, Va., and Sy Lederman, of Smithtown, can directly attest to how perceptive and capable their own guide dogs are.
Pearce, whose military vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb 60 days into his tour in Iraq in 2006, survived the attack that launched a piece of shrapnel into his skull.
“After I woke up from the coma, I didn’t think I needed help yet,” said Pearce, 43, who served 17 years in the Army and went on two tours to Iraq. “I was trying to do things on my own, but then I met a guide dog and I saw the added mobility and companionship.”
Pearce was having trouble balancing and slowly losing his sight, so he walked with a cane. Since Othello, a 2-year-old black Labrador and guide dog, came into his life a week ago, more of his confidence has returned.
“I used to walk with a cane and my head down,” he said. “I don’t have to do that anymore. I can walk with my head held high and I feel normal again.”
World War II veteran Lederman, who sat beside his 5-year-old guide dog poodle Merlot Friday, said he’s been assigned assistance guide dogs since 1963.
“I just started losing my sight one day, little by little, now I only see light in my left eye,” said Lederman, 86. “My life just wouldn’t be the same without these dogs. It’s already dangerous enough crossing roads in Smithtown.”