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Leader Dogs for the Blind Logo

Why I choose to go over the edge for Leader Dogs for the Blind

Karen Burke
for Leader Dogs for the Blind
Leader Dogs for the Blind’s Double Dog Dare event sends supporters rappelling down a building to raise program funds.

Last September in Rochester Hills, I joined 71 people as we challenged ourselves to rappel down a 15-story building during Leader Dogs for the Blind’s Double Dog Dare event. While we had a lot of fun, our main goal was to raise money for this nonprofit, which helps people overcome their daily challenge of blindness or visual impairment. I was one of the first rappellers to sign up and raised over $10,000, which was the most of any participant.

My motivation went beyond conquering a fear of heights or checking an item off my bucket list. I was born without the ability to see, and Leader Dogs for the Blind has supported me over the years. In 1994, I completed their Guide Dog Training program and received my first Leader Dog. Slowly but surely, I gained the confidence to take on any challenge. That’s why, years later, I wasn’t scared to rappel down Oakland Towne Center. I wanted to prove that people can do almost anything, regardless of their disability, as long as they keep a positive attitude.

Today, I work with my third Leader Dog, a highly trained Labrador retriever named Shadow. With her by my side, I have the freedom to live my life to the fullest. I also give back to my community by being an active member of the Royal Oak Lions Club. While the Lions are great supporters of Leader Dogs for the Blind, I wanted to do more to show how grateful I am for my three guide dogs. So, every week I volunteer at Leader Dog’s canine center, where I help new dogs in training get acclimated to their environment.

I’m excited to go over the edge again on September 21. For the second straight year, I was one of the first to sign up and have raised more than $1,000 so far. It’s funny — I get asked a lot if Shadow rappels with me. But I tell everyone she’s very happy to keep her four paws on the ground and greet me with kisses after I make it down.

What makes Leader Dogs for the Blind so special

I love that Leader Dogs for the Blind is built on the belief that every person deserves to live a safe, independent life. They’ve been providing training and guide dogs to people across the United States and Canada for 80 years. Their other programs include white cane training and a summer camp for teenagers who are blind or visually impaired.

When someone loses his or her sight, trust me, everything changes. The statistics prove this: 90% of people who are blind live in low-income settings, 60% are unemployed and 43% live with depression. Of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in America, only 10% travel independently with a white cane or guide dog. Leader Dogs for the Blind aims to raise that number, because they understand the impact independent travel has on a person’s confidence. But they can’t do it alone. Since Leader Dogs for the Blind receives zero funding from local, state and federal governments, they need our help.

This fall, join me as a rappeller, supporter or volunteer by visiting myleaderdog.org/double-dog-dare.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.