Members of the Newton Lions Club will be flipping pancakes Saturday at their annual fall pancake breakfast.
Each year the club selects a charity or charities to award the breakfast proceeds to. For this event, the club has selected Lions Leader Dogs for the Blind, which has a unique Newton connection.
Lions clubs originated in the United States in 1917. By 1920, Lions became international with the establishment of the first club in Canada. Today, Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization. Lions have 1.35 million members in more than 46,000 clubs worldwide. Lions are in every corner of the world, existing in more than 207 countries and geographic areas. The current Newton Lions Club was chartered in October 2009 after having a 25-year absence of Lions in the community.
In 1925, Helen Keller, a deaf and blind person, addressed the Lions Clubs International convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Since then, Lions have worked tirelessly to aid the blind and visually impaired. While historically this has been a main focus of the service clubs, they do much more. The overall mission of the Lions clubs is to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace, and promote international understanding.
In 1939, three Lions club members founded Leader Dogs for the Blind, a guide dog training school located in Rochester Hills, Mich. It is the second guide dog school founded in the U.S. and has paired more than 14,000 dogs with the visually impaired worldwide, making it one of the largest organizations of its kind. Leader Dogs is a nonprofit organization. All expenses, including room and board, airfare, and the dog itself, are offered free of charge. An applicant, after being accepted into the program, travels to Leader Dogs’ headquarters and must spend from 19 to 26 days of training with his or her new dog, after which the dog belongs to the applicant officially.
In 2002, Leader Dogs for the Blind began a relationship with Iowa Prisons. The first to participate was North Central Correctional Facility at Rockwell City. In 2010, the Correctional Release Center in Newton and the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility began their partnerships with Leader Dogs for the Blind. Selected inmates in these facilities are paired with puppies which will eventually go on to be trained as guide dogs for the blind.
The raising of a puppy in a prison is like puppy kindergarten, but it is also very instrumental. The puppy learns basic commands such as sit, stay, down, come, and heel. It receives socialization by having lots of interaction with humans, other dogs, and even sometimes other animals. When a puppy graduates puppy kindergarten after about a year, it goes on to Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester, Michigan, which is like a high-end college. At puppy college they receive more extensive training such as curb work, traffic work and much more that is not available except from certified trainers.
Prison personnel are also instrumental in the success of the program. Sometimes merely a love for animals allows for a little common ground with prisoners and personnel. The prisoners appreciate this link to society. It allows them the chance to do something positive with their time as well as a sense of pride knowing they are giving back and helping someone else. The goal is to eventually help improve the life of a blind person by pairing them up with a Leader Dog and enabling them to live more independently.
The Correctional Release Center at Newton has had a total of 28 puppies so far. Four have gone on to Leader Dogs for the Blind school, one was a career change for medical reasons, and ten are currently being raised at Newton. Donations pay for the expenses incurred for the care of the puppies while they are at the prison. The cost per puppy is $500.
The Newton Lions Club’s fundraising pancake breakfast will be from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the Jasper County Senior Citizens Center at 702 E. Third St. S. in Newton with all proceeds collected benefiting the Leader Dog puppy program at the Newton prison. The cost of the meal is $5 for those ages 12 and up and $3 for children age 11 and younger. The all-you-can-eat meal consists of buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage links and beverages.
Two local businesses, Cappy’s Tire & Auto Service and Newton Clinic P.C. Physicians & Surgeons, donated all of the food for the breakfast so that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the prison puppy program. The public is invited to attend the breakfast.
Those interested in learning more about the Lions or who would like to donate to Leader Dogs for the Blind may contact Newton Lions Club president Jack Ayres at (641) 792-4330.