Bio: Kramer, Bev
(Leader Dogs - 2008)
Contact: R. Lipprandt
Surname: Kramer, O'Brien
----Source: The Tribune - Phonograph (Abbotsford, Clark Co., WI), Wednesday, November 26, 2008, page 8, By Kevin O’Brien
Abby woman raising 11th Leader Dog for the Blind
By Kevin O’Brien
The little black lab who recently arrived at Bev Kramer’s house in Abbotsford doesn’t act much different than most puppies. She enjoys gnawing on bones, she likes stealing articles of clothing out of her master’s bedroom, and she can’t resist jumping up on guests who walk through the front door.
One day, though, little Willow will be responsible for lending her sight and sensibility to someone who needs help navigating through the world. First she has to get used to the world herself, and that’s where Kramer comes in. For the last 11 years, Kramer has been raising puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind, a Michigan-based non-profit organization that matches Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and German shepherds with those who have vision problems.
After about 10 or 11 months, the puppies return to the organization for training as leader dogs, leaving Kramer with the desire to take on a new challenge.
"It’s very sad to give them up," she said. "You have an empty spot and it’s nice to have a new puppy come along."
Kramer is a lifelong "dog person." Her husband Dennis bought her a dog as a gift shortly after they got married, and she always had pets as a girl growing up on a farm near Dorchester, Wis.
"My father really respected his animals, and I think I learned a great deal from him," she said.
The puppy-raising process starts when Leader Dogs’ Puppy Development Department places a new puppy with Kramer. Although the organization has its own breeding stock of dogs, Kramer said Willow is one of two puppies donated to the organization by a show dog breeder in Ohio.
Willow comes from a stock that is "very, very mellow," Kramer said, which is one of the many traits needed in a leader dog.
"They can’t be afraid of things; they have to be a very bold type dog," she said. Leader dogs also have to be more "emotionally stable" than average pets, she said, as well as willing to work and learn new things.
Kramer’s main job is to socialize the puppies, getting them comfortable with different types of environments, experiences and noises. They also have to be able to walk confidently across all sorts of surfaces, from slippery kitchen floors to metal fire escapes. "I take my dogs to sporting events. I take them to live concerts, live theater, we take them to movies, because those are all places that the visually impaired person has the potential to go with their dogs," she said.
One of the first dogs the puppies meet is the Kramers’ 17-year-old Bischon friese, Casper. "I think it’s kept Casper young; it’s stimulating to her," she said. "The new puppies have to learn their boundaries and I have to teach all of them that they don’t hassle the old lady on the block."
As a volunteer raiser, Kramer also receives her own "training," so to speak, meeting once a month with a puppy counselor in Eau Claire, who evaluates the puppy’s progress and works with a group of volunteers.
"If somebody’s having problems with a particular aspect of their dog, we’re all there to help problem solve together, which is really great," she said.
Kramer said she has learned a lot about animal behavior, and how to transform bad habits into positive characteristics. "It’s just been a ton of fun," she said. "I really enjoy it."
The puppy counselor helped her with one particularly challenging puppy who was afraid of other dogs, a problematic trait that demanded attention.
Kramer rewards her puppies for displaying "calming behaviors" and uses a hand-held clicker to reinforce her commands. This process worked successfully with her timid puppy, helping her overcome her fear of other dogs before it turned into aggression.
Kramer developed a friendship with the dog’s eventual owner, who raves about how well she gets along with other dogs.
Once the puppies are returned to Leader Dogs, they are evaluated and then enter formal harness training, which provides them with the skills necessary to lead visually impaired owners. The eventual owners receive information about the volunteer raisers, and Kramer always prepares a picture book with her contact information inside.
"Every single person I have had contact with, and with some of them I’ve formed lasting relationships," she said. "I’ve been very fortunate."
Dogs that Kramer raised have been placed across the country from Alabama and Arkansas to Las Vegas, Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. She even has one dog in the Canary Islands and another in Canada.
Leader Dogs is supported by contributions from the Lions Club, and Kramer said local clubs in Abbotsford and Curtiss have been very supportive of the program.
Kramer said Leader Dogs is the only organization that trains dogs for people who are both visually and hearing impaired. It also just recently introduced a new device called the Trekker Breeze, which uses GPS technology to give the dog-owners directions as they walk.
Now on her 11th puppy, Kramer remains dedicated to helping ensure a steady supply of well-trained dogs for those who need them the most.
"It’s probably the best gift you could give anybody," she said. "I can’t imagine a better one."
For more information on becoming a host family, contact Leader Dogs’ Puppy Development Department at (248) 650-7114 or go online to www.leaderdog.org.
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