REDDING, Conn. -- Those who pay a visit to Police Chief Doug Fuchs at the Redding Police Station may notice a furry little brown-haired companion by his side.
It's Kato, a 2-and-a-half-month-old German shepherd puppy who Fuchs is training to become a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person.
Fuchs is working with the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, a national nonprofit organization founded in 1960 whose mission is to breed and train guide dogs for the blind. It has locations in Bloomfield and Wilton.
"I always liked dogs and have always had a dog as an adult," Fuchs said. The police chief, along with his wife Diane and children Rachel, 18, and Zach, 16, also have their own dog -- a labrador retriever named Maggie.
They brought Kato home when he was 3 weeks old.
Doug Fuchs takes classes at Fidelco every Saturday, where he learns different skills in how to train Kato. His goal is to get the pup socialized in a variety of public places so Kato can get used to being around people.
According to Fuchs, Kato will eventually be outfitted with a "leader," a harness he will be required to wear when he is with his future owner. "My job is to get him well socialized," he said. Fuchs uses food as a reward for Kato when he wears the harness.
The Fuchs' current challenges are similar to those any new puppy owner must go through -- getting him housebroken and preventing him from chewing on the furniture.
"I'm teaching him how to behave like a little gentleman," Fuchs said.
Fuchs said Kato's temperament is "amazing."
"He comes to work with me and goes wherever I go," Fuchs said. "He is very happy just to be where I am. He settles right down."
After 16 months, Fuchs will return Kato to Fidelco. "He will go to a professional trainer who is part of the Fidelco team," Fuchs said, where he will learn to become a guide dog.
According to Eliot Russman, president and chief executive officer of Fidelco, the organization has placed 1,450 German shepherd guide dogs across North America.
Fidelco relies upon the support of its donors and volunteers.
"Doug's family is one of the first five families in the Fairfield County market to be raising a dog in our program," Russman said.
According to Russman, volunteer puppy trainers must meet the following requirements: Puppies must not be allowed on furniture and should be trained in basic obedience and socialization.
Fidelco trains only German shepherds because they are working dogs. They have superior intelligence, work ethic and the right temperament as well as good stamina, Russman said.
"There is a three- to nine-month waiting list. After we match up the candidate with a dog, we take the dog to the client's hometown and train him or her there," he said.
The training involves everything our client would be doing in their life.
"Redding Police Chief Doug Fuchs and his family represent hundreds of Fidelco volunteer puppy-raisers. Without their compassionate dedication, open hearts and loving homes, Fidelco could not provide our guide dogs to men and women who are blind," Russman said.
Five Fidelco-bred dogs were deployed on 9/11 with the Connecticut State Police and trained to work at Ground Zero. On the Wednesday morning after the Twin Towers collapsed, one of the dogs -- Logan -- found a survivor in the pile of rubble.
Fuchs said he is not concerned about missing Kato when they have to part ways. "I will cross that bridge when I come to it," he said. "I am happy knowing how much he will enable somebody else to have a little more freedom in this life."
For more information on the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, click here.
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