Southeastern Guide Dogs: Life-Changing Furever Friends 

Southeastern Guide Dogs: Life-Changing Furever Friends

All photos courtesy of Southeastern Guide Dogs

By Rebecca Fending 

With National Volunteer Month in April, it’s never too early to start planning how you’d like to give back to your community and make a difference. And what better way to do so than by working with extraordinary dogs and wonderful people? 

About Southeastern Guide Dogs

Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) is an organization that transforms lives by creating and nurturing partnerships between people and dogs. Situated on a 33-acre large campus in Palmetto, the organization breeds, raises and trains guide dogs, service dogs and skilled companion dogs for those in need. People with vision loss, veterans with disabilities and children with significant challenges are all eligible to receive a skilled dog, free of charge to them.  

Elyse Chaplin, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, initially reached out to the organization looking to fulfill her passion for helping people. She was hired to cultivate relationships with individuals and corporations that are interested in becoming a part of the Southeastern Guide Dogs family and supporting the mission. “I’ve never been this happy in my career my whole life,” Elyse says. “Our dogs change people’s lives every day. They are truly our treasures.” 

Once the bred puppies are born, their learning begins as early as two days old. After a full two years of training, the dogs know 20 to 40 cues to help assist their future human companions. They also learn when to “disobey,” for instances where their human would be in harm’s way, such as if a visually impaired person cannot see oncoming traffic as they cross the street.  

Part of Southeastern Guide Dogs’ wildly successful model is the Matching Program. Through this program, on-campus trainers assess the needs, location and even walking pace of those in need to pair them with the guide dog best fit their lifestyle. Once trainers have found a successful match, the graduate then meets their guide dog. With a wagging tail, eager hug and lots of canine kisses, the forever bond has begun.  

Once matched, SEGD covers all food costs, preventative care (such as flea and tick prevention) and annual veterinarian visits for the dog once they’ve been placed with their person.  

This nonprofit organization is run by a staff of 175 and a wonderful corps of volunteers. From administrative work to puppy raising and fostering, SEGD has a position that’s perfect for anyone, especially Florida seniors.  

Vicki Potapow, puppy raising volunteer since 2017, says that seniors find joy in working with exceptional canines and making human friends in the mix. “You come for the dogs, but stay for the people,” Vicki says. “There are local support groups for the volunteers and program graduates that will help you through any questions you have. You’re never alone in any step of the process.” 

“Our work is very fulfilling,” finishes Chaplin. “The impact that our dogs have with veterans that have disabilities and for youth and adults with visual impairment is very moving.”

Support SEGD in person or at one of the Walkathon events! Details are at the organization’s website listed below. 

Southeastern Guide Dogs is 100% donor-funded, so if you would like to help support the organization remotely, monetary donations are happily accepted.  

For more information, donations or to sign up for volunteering opportunities, visit