Guide Dogs of America provides the blind with new independence

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A Sylmar-based organization called Guide Dogs of America breeds, raises and trains dogs that provide the blind with new independence.

A Sylmar-based organization called Guide Dogs of America breeds, raises and trains around 200 dogs every year to help provide the blind with new independence.

It also houses groups of students in dorms for 28 days to train alongside their dog, on- and off-campus.

"When you lose your vision, you lose your independence. Receiving a guide dog gives that back," said Lori Bernson.

Bernson lost her vision due to diabetes 20 years ago. She then came to Guide Dogs of America as a student.

"When I lost my vision, a lot of it was about something that I lost -- 'I lost my vision, I don't have vision' -- and when I received my first dog, it became about, 'look what I got,'" she said.

The experience was so profound, she began working for the organization as a spokesperson.

Puppies are bred inside the facility, but are raised by foster families who must agree to bring the dogs back when they reach 18 months old.

Then, the dogs go through intensive training with the staff before meeting their eventual companion.

Mandy Weare suffers from the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa and is going through the Guide Dogs for America program as a student a second time around.

"The best part is just the confidence that you get and the feeling that you're able to go through life, you know, as 'normal' as possible," Weare said.

Almost 10 years ago, she trained with her first dog. Now, that dog is being retired and she's learning the personality of a new dog.

"He's definitely my other half, besides my husband," she said.

Weare said her first dog changed her life.

"When I got my guide dog, I was able to go out to the mall or the gym, felt more confident riding the bus," she said.

Weare traveled from Bellevue, Washington for the training. Students come from all over the country.

Sylmar has been the North American headquarters for Guide Dogs of America since 1948.

The entire program is free of charge for students. But, they receive no government funding. It is totally dependent on donations.

"We beg, we wish, we hope for donations!" said Bernson.

For more information on how to get involved or donate, visit

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