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Guide Dog Opens Eyes in Clearwater

Stephanie Miller confronted city officials through Facebook after being barred from entry into an event with a guide dog in training. After an apology, officials also decided to sponsor Coastie, Miller’s latest puppy in training.

Stephanie Miller came to the looking to enjoy some music.

She was accompanied by Sunny, a puppy being groomed as a guide dog.

Security at the event did not know that service animals in training also get the same rights as certified guide dogs. They told Miller she would not be allowed into the free concert at .

Miller cited the state statute to no avail. She left without getting to enjoy the blues.

“Being an educator myself, I look for every possible moment to help teach the public about anything,” she said.

So what could have ended with the blues turned into a teachable moment, Miller left a comment about the incident on the City of Clearwater Facebook Page and made an offer to officials they could not refuse: sponsor her next puppy in training.

“Once we confirmed the Florida laws, I made an apology,” said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli in an email. “(Miller) accepted the apology and asked if we would be interested in sponsorship of a puppy which would allow us to have naming rights.”

The city paid the $3,500 for the naming rights of Miller’s latest guide dog in training Coastie. City leaders are expected to meet the pup at their Thursday meeting.

“We made the decision to do the sponsorship and use the opportunity to promote Southeastern Guide Dogs and to educate our employees and the public on guide dogs and guide dogs in training,” Castelli said.

Training Guide Dogs

, a spokeswoman with Sarasota-based Southeastern Guide Dogs, said countless hours and a 200-page manual go into developing the puppies into guide dogs. Bement also for Bradenton Patch.

Miller said that there are specific directional commands that the puppies must learn to be able to become certified. A graduation ceremony is also held at the end of the nearly 14-month training period.

“There are some people who go back to back and get a new dog. Some take a break,” Miller said. “I usually take a break because it is a lot of work.”

Miller loves volunteering her time to raise the puppies into guide dogs. Although, letting them go at graduation can be difficult.  

“If you do this and really have the mindset of what you are doing, people are hooked,” Miller said. “I don’t know anyone personally who has done it and not done it again.”

Bement said that while the operation is based out of Sarasota, there are about 25 puppy raisers in Pinellas and and about 250 across the country. The group does prefer having puppy raisers closer to the Tampa Bay area.

“We’re always looking to add more,” Bement said. “We have puppies coming out of our ears right now.”

Puppy in Training

Coastie is a yellow Labrador. He is one of eight in his litter and also the third guide dog Miller has raised.

She takes Coastie with her to work at the Pinellas County Schools administration building. Miller said he hangs out with her with a pile of toys and his food and water nearby. They take a few breaks each day to go outside.

Part of training the puppies is taking them to public places so they can be acclimated to those environments. Miller said they have gone to restaurants but because he still is so young, they have not checked out movie theaters or malls, yet.

Castelli said he is named Coastie in honor of the U.S. Coast Guard and for . She said local Coast Guard offices approved the name.

Check here if you are interested in raising a guide dog.

Lynda May 17, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Wonderful story about a dedicated volunteer and a responsive local government which made use of its teachable moment! Thanks for the positive news and for highlighting one of the many groups that provide guide dogs for people.
Jared Leone May 17, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Thanks Lynda!
Elaine Caras May 17, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Petey has a new friend!!!
Elizabeth May 18, 2012 at 04:48 AM
! Love the article. Puppy love from Coasties sister, Shell!
Susan Osborne May 19, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Great "tail"!! I love the way this story turned-out! Thank you Clearwater for doing-the-right-thing! I lived in your great area for over 25 yrs. and know Ms. Miller personally - there would be no finer person for training these dogs. Clearwater, Stephanie Miller, and now "Coastie" are truly TOP NOTCH! You 'all make me PROUD!

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