Chicago non-profit pairing visually impaired children with companion dogs

The Chicago Lighthouse is connecting children who are visually impaired or blind with the companion of a lifetime.

The non-profit has teamed up with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that trains guide dogs in New York. The program pairs dogs who are trained to become guide dogs, but for some reason do not pass the final exam, with kids ages 5 to 15. They're calling it "Operation Cuddle Up."

"These are dogs for the Operation Cuddle Up program, they're lovely dogs, but they're just saying, 'I do not want to be a guide dog at this point,'" said Guiding Eyes for the Blind Vice President Kathy Zubrycki.

Chicago-area teenager Isaac Raske, who is visually impaired, was gifted one of the dogs, named Flyer. He is using the opportunity to show the world what he can do.

"We might interface with the world differently, but we can still get the same tasks accomplished. We can still build relationships. We still have different personalities. We're just humans with that extra layer of vision loss," said Raske.

The companion dog gives Raske additional independence and allows him to take on extra responsibility.

"Just learning how to take care of an animal is always important and builds confidence with kids and adults, and it's just great companionship especially in these days in quarantine," said Isaac's mom, Angela.


The program also helps children and teens prepare for owning a guide dog down the road.

"Flyer is just so funny and brings some joy into their home at a time during the pandemic when we need more joy in our homes," said Chicago Lighthouse President and CEO Dr. Janet Szlyk.

There are a few requirements for kids to qualify for the program. You can contact The Chicago Lighthouse at  (312) 666-1331 for more information.