By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Northborough – Over $62,000 was raised by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local Lodge 447 during the 12th annual District 15 Charles W. Foley Memorial Golf Tournament held at Juniper Hill Golf Club Aug. 31. Once again the funds were donated to a cause very dear to the union, the Guide Dogs of America (GDA).
The tournament is held annually in memory of Charles Foley, “a union member who spent his life working to better the lives of people of all kinds,” according to one of the tournament organizers, Russell Gittlen, who is also the union’s area director.
The connection between the nonprofit GDA, which is based in California, and IAMAW was formed over 60 years ago, Gittlen said, by Joseph Jones Sr., a retired member of the IAMAW.
“When Mr. Jones became blind, he considered all his options and decided his mobility needs would best be met by using a guide dog. He applied to all the existing schools, but he was declined because of his ‘advanced age,’” Gittlen explained. “He was only 57 years old.”
This year the golfers, many of who participate every year, got to meet two special guests – GDA Canine Development Assistant Yvette Sheehan and “Alani,” a purebred yellow
Labrador who has just finished training with GDA.
With the assistance of Julia Gittlen, a junior at Algonquin Regional High School (and Russell Gittlen’s daughter), Sheehan and Alani demonstrated how a guide dog can help a person who has either significant limited or no vision.
After Julia put on an eye mask, she held onto Alani’s harness and then, with Sheehan instructing the dog, walked through the crowded parking lot safely.
“I felt really comfortable,” Julia said. “Alani did a great job keeping me safe.”
That skill comes after months of training, Sheehan said. GDA breeds their own dogs and then puts them through a strict program of training and socialization. Dogs who pass all their tests are then placed with a recipient at about age 18 months.
All of this is done at absolutely no charge to the recipient, Sheehan said.
“We do not receive any state or federal funds,” she said. “That’s why events like this are so important.”
Each GDA places about 50-60 dogs a year. They also provide advocacy services and follow-up free of charge.
“It really is life-changing for these people,” Sheehan said. “It gives them their freedom and independence, and the ability to live great lives.”
Although the dogs are considered “working dogs,” they definitely get time to be, well, just dogs, Sheehan noted.
“They are trained that when the harness is on, they are working,” she said. “But once that comes off, they know it’s down time. And they are just like any other dog who wants to play.”
As proof, after Julia and Alani’s demonstration, Sheehan dropped Alani’s harness. As Julia knelt down to praise her, Alain responded with several big, wet kisses, her tail wagging constantly.
After the tournament, Russell Gittlen noted how pleased he and the other organizers were after another successful tournament.
“Each year, I am amazed and heartened by the commitment of our unions and companies to unite for the sake of charity. We come together to help those in need get assistance from Guide Dogs of America,” he said. “This year, golfers and sponsors raised more than $62,000 to benefit the Guide Dogs of America, which topped last year’s total.”
For more information on Guide Dogs, visit www.guidedogsofamerica.org/1/.