Meet Daily Point of Light Award honorees Anita and Andy McDonald. During the third annual Global Volunteer Month, we celebrate the power of people who tackle society’s greatest challenges, and build stronger, more vibrant communities through volunteerism and everyday actions, like Anita and Andy. Read their story, and join the Global Volunteer Month celebration.
Anita and Andy McDonald weren’t expecting to become volunteers with the Guide Dog Foundation, an organization that breeds and trains guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired. But after a family connection, they fell in love with the puppies and dogs that give so much to others.
Their 15-year long journey with the Foundation was the retirees’ new beginning. They’ve served as breeder caretakers to provide homes for breeder dogs and bring them back to the Foundation when it’s time to start the next generation of puppies.
Describe your volunteer role with the Guide Dog Foundation.
Andy: We were kind of informally introduced to the guide dog community by my sister-in-law. Anita’s sister was involved as a puppy raiser for many years and so were her children. She actually lived in close proximity to the foundation. So, we got a little exposure that way and got to see her as she raised puppies for the foundation. One of the dogs that she raised went on to work as a working guide and she maintained contact with the gentleman who took her in. The dog was nearing retirement, and they asked us if we would like to adopt her, so we did, and named her Ringer in 2012.
We agreed to adopt Ringer and were in the process of adoption when we met her original owner and sat with him for a while. We were able to really find out the impact that this animal had on his life, and it wasn’t the first guide dog that he had. Seeing the impact that this dog had on him really hit home for us. We got more involved with the foundation in 2015.
How has your volunteerism with the Guide Dog Foundation grown over time?
Andy: Well, we started out with an orientation class with the idea that we would just temporarily help by taking in some of the dogs to get time out of the kennel while they were in between training and being placed. And one thing led to another and I was informed about their breeder program. It was something that piqued our interest. I got some more details, and I came home and discussed it with Anita. It turned out it was something that we felt that we’d be able to make a contribution to.
The program itself is basically providing a home for a breeder, whether it be a female or a male, and we maintain their proper weight and their proper house values because these are dogs that are going to be utilized to produce puppies for the program.
Describe your experience volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andy: Our particular situation was unique. We were able to have the puppies here at home so it was actually helpful. There was a lot less interaction at home.
Anita: We’re keeping a puppy, or the mom and the puppies, for about five weeks and we have them in our home and we get to take care of them that way until they’re ready to go back to the foundation for a week or two.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Andy: We were able to see the impact that Ringer had in someone’s life who was visually impaired. We continually see dedication from the foundation to support their volunteers and help you understand how important your role is, no matter how small it is. Believe me, there are so many people that do so much more than we do, but at the same time, the breeding program is an important part of the program. These puppies have to come from somewhere. We’re encouraged that they make every single volunteer understand how important their contribution is.
Anita: When we started taking on the breeders and delivered our first litter, it was amazing. As a mom, you sit there and you’re able to support the mom dog and just comfort them. I had nights when I would just lay on the floor with my pillow and blanket with a dog that was in labor to be close to her. You can even feel the puppies moving in their belly sometimes. When they’re finally delivered and we get to hold them, we wrap them in little baby blankets and hold them. I came home from work and the puppies would just crawl over me. It would be such a relief. And then we got to see them progress during those eight weeks and develop their personalities. It really is truly amazing and heartwarming.
What have you learned through your experience as a volunteer?
Andy: I think sometimes people don’t appreciate the impact that they are able to have, even in a minor role. So many people are dissuaded from giving to whatever particular charitable organization or something that’s important to them. They think they can’t or that they don’t have the time, but there are so many small contributions that they can make that honestly make an impact. It’s a lot more rewarding than people understand.
Anita: You do so much good when you contribute something, no matter how small.
Are there any partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Andy: Well one thing that we’ve been wanting to attempt to do for a long time when we’re about to host a female that’s about to give birth is invite the family of that particular breeder to come over and see the mom and her pups. We want them to see what the whole process is about.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Anita and Andy? Find local volunteer opportunities.