Empowering People Who Are Blind to Live More Independently: Leader Dogs for the Blind

06 Jul 2015 by Jason's Connection

Recently Jason’s Connection’s founder, Jason Harris, talked with with Melissa Spooner and Rachelle Kniffen of Leader Dogs for the Blind, an organization whose mission is empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel.

In this fascinating interview, Ms. Kniffen and Ms. Spooner discuss Leader Dogs for the Blind, and their Prison Puppies Program.

“Once our clients get a Leader Dog, they gain the independence and confidence to go out and go places on their own. Our bottom line is expanding someone’s independence.”

Interview With Leader Dogs for the Blind

RACHELLE KNIFFEN is Director if Communications and Marketing for Leader Dogs.

MELISSA SPOONER is the coordinator of Leader Dogs’ Prison Puppies program, LEADER DOGS FOR THE BLIND empowers people who are blind, visually impaired or Deaf-Blind with skills for a lifetime of independent travel, opening doors that may seem to have closed with the loss of sight. Thanks to the generosity of their dedicated supporters, all programs are provided free to clients, including meals and housing during training, travel and equipment. Leader Dog programs are crafted to address individual situations and adapt to clients’ changing needs at any point in their lives. From youth camp to orientation and mobility cane training through guide dog training and GPS technology integration, Leader Dog’s programs give clients the confidence and skills they need to live independent lives. Leader Dog is recognized as a “Best In America” Charity by the Independent Charities of America (ICA).

Over the past 13 years, Leader Dog has been raising puppies in correctional facilities in several states including Iowa and Michigan with great success. These Future Leader Dogs are trained by inmates who, while incarcerated, have been model prisoners and demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that they could be trusted to provide 24-7 care to an eight-week old puppy through its twelfth month of life. Puppies raised in the prison are afforded a unique opportunity in an environment where their very presence is rehabilitative. More importantly, puppies raised in the prison have fewer health and behavioral issues as evaluated by our veterinary care team, and more often successfully complete their guide dog training at Leader Dog’s 14-acre campus. Puppies raised in correctional facilities have a great success rate with over 65 percent going on to graduate with their human partner from the Leader Dog’s guide dog training program. The average Future Leader Dog raised in a home only manages to succeed at graduating from our guide dog training program 39 percent of the time.

For a downloadable podcast of this interview, please visit:

For more information on Leader Dogs for the Blind, please visit: