Melbourne Central Catholic High School’s National Honor Society raised funds for its newest guide dog, Dooley. The puppy will be trained to assist a veteran or child with vision loss. (COURTESY)

School helps man’s best friend

MELBOURNE  |  For the third year, Melbourne Central Catholic High School’s National Honor Society is sponsoring puppy training for individuals with vision loss. The newest guide dog on the block is Dooley, a golden retriever/Labrador mix named in honor of baseball coach and dean of students Tom Dooley’s 30 years at the school.

Members raised $4,500 through car washes and raffle ticket sales. The cost covers one year of training for the Southeastern Guide Dogs puppies. The educator’s faithful guidance for three decades falls in line with the tenacity and commitment required to train a dog that is to care for others. 

“What a fantastic honor it is to have this particular dog named Dooley,” the coach said. “He is adorable, but more importantly will do such great things with his training by serving others. I have been blessed with my time at (Melbourne Central Catholic). I am truly honored to be a part of a great family (here).” Dooley is grateful for the guide dogs’ service to disabled veterans. He said the tribute also honors Jon Gifford, an award-winning graduate who played baseball for Dooley and lost his life in Afghanistan.

Principal Ernie Herrington explained Southeastern Guide Dogs are offered to veterans with disabilities and children with vision loss at no cost. 

“It’s important to give back and this gives the students the added social justice piece,” he said. 

Anita Kealer serves as coordinator for the school’s National Honor Society. She said the first dog the school sponsored, Riley, is now a working guide for a visually impaired handler, and the second dog, Cisco, is still in training. In the past, the dogs were trained on campus, but due to new regulations, trainer John Sperling will take on the task. He promised to visit the campus during Dooley’s 14 months of socialization to show off his progress. 

“Socializing a future guide dog on campus directly supported our Franciscan charism,” Kealer said. “We cared for two of God’s creatures every day for 14 months and then said goodbye knowing that, as a school community, we did our best to prepare them for a higher purpose. We raised loving, confident future service dogs. 

“True service should be a sacrifice,” she continued. “It was difficult to return (the dogs) to Southeastern Guide Dogs for the final phase of their training.”