MiIRA Dogs

Jennifer Kasunick with Falco, left, and Marie Villaneda with Bear. (Contributed Photos)

Two new graduates completed training this summer and have been paired with guide dogs, according to MIRA USA.

Marie Villaneda, 15, and Jennifer Kasunick, 13, attended Evaluation Weekend in Pinehurst earlier this year where they were approved to attend the four-week Guide Dog School held during the summer in Canada. The dogs — Falco and Bear — are trained to assist these children with navigating safely in public.

The paring of a MIRA guide dog with an eligible child includes extensive evaluation of a child’s ability and need; readiness and mental stability; and assessment of orientation and mobility skills. Once a candidate passes this evaluation, they attend Guide Dog School in a fully equipped facility near Montreal.

Guide Dog School is conducted by MIRA USA’s sister organization, MIRA Canada. The school is an intensive course that teaches important skills, including navigation with a guide dog, dog handling, and general care of the dog. Children are awarded their guide dog upon graduation from Guide Dog School.

Soon after returning home with their guide dogs, MIRA instructors travel from Canada to the children’s hometowns. The instructors acclimate the student and dog to their hometown environment. They also accompany the pair to their grade school in order for them to learn the layout and introduce the school children and staff to guide dog etiquette. MIRA continues to stay in contact with students on a regular basis. Follow-up visits from instructors are offered yearly and additional training sessions are available to students anytime, upon request.

Villaneda and Kasunick are now settling in at home with their guide dogs.

“Bear (Marie’s dog) has been amazing and is helping Marie in so many ways,” said her mother, Julie. “Thank you MIRA USA for this amazing asset to her independence!”

Based in Pinehurst, MIRA USA is a national non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing independence and quality of life for blind children. As the first organization in the United States that provides guide dogs for eligible children between the ages of 11 and 16, the organization provides intensive training for these youngsters and their families free of charge.

MIRA Canada was founded in 1981 and is dedicated to helping disabled individuals by pairing them with dogs bred and fully trained to respond to their adaptation and rehabilitation needs. They concentrate their efforts on improving the functional abilities of individuals, in particular in regard to mobility and orientation, so that they can get around freely in their living environment.

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