Leader Dog for the Blind and Lion Len Quinn shares his story of taking on his first companion Mikey with the help of Slyder, his third.

Fairchild Lions fundraise with honored speaker

Leader Dog for the Blind proponent shares personal story

Bridget Cooke

Len Quinn has been a motivational speaker for years, traveling throughout the country and totaling 1,484 speeches. As an active member of the Lions Club in Ripon, Wis., he has been a president and district governor for the area.

Traveling countless miles, he has shared his story, encouraging Lions to donate to one cause: Leader Dog for the Blind.

For 16 years, Quinn has been going from town in the United States and has been doing it all without sight. His dogs, Mikey, Ginger and Slyder, have gone with him, diligently ensuring he remains safe during his numerous airplane boardings and trips to the podium.

Speaking from the stage of the Osseo-Fairchild auditorium, Quinn told his story. When he first lost his sight, the man before them said he was in a self-described rotten mood.

“My kids would call me and depending on how I said hello, they would either start talking or hang up,” he said to an amused audience. “Most of the time, they hung up.”

Then one day, while sitting in a local diner, a man came up to him and began a conversation. Being in an habitually cantankerous mood, Quinn told the visitor to get lost. Unfazed, the man introduced himself and shared his hopes to get the blind man a leader dog. A local Lion, he knew of the Leader Dog for the Blind because its connections to the organization. Since 1936, the beginning of the program by Lions in Michigan, the fundraiser has been supplying leader dogs to the visually impaired.

The speaker went on to explain his less than grateful reaction and his stubborn refusal to accept the offer.

“I was sore after that,” Quinn said. “I kicked every tree on the way home. So three months later when I was working with the Lions and Leader Dog…”

Audience laughter of nearly 50 listeners filled the air as he shared his story of meeting his first dog, Mikey, who left quite a first impression. When he went to take part in the training, a trainer came to him and said they found a dog, but he had been passed over by a number of others. In their first meeting, Quinn said Mikey ran in, took treats right out of his hand and ran back out the door.

It was a match made in heaven for the next years to come, and 147,000 air miles traveled.

“My dream lives because Lions dream,” Quinn said. “And they make dreams come true.”

Going around from place to place has been a part of everyday life for Quinn and his wife, with a leader dog constantly alongside. It is a cause he believes in and hopes they can continue with their work. He informed the Lions of the updates needed to the kennels where they raise the dogs and answered a number of questions about the types of dogs used in training, the incidence of females with more success than their male counterparts and how each command works. Demonstrating a need for disobedience in dogs as well, he had Slyder work for a treat to outline the importance of a dog that will purposefully disobey the blind person they guide if it puts the person on the end of the leash at risk. A leader dog has to indicate when their person should stop at a crossing or when to stop at the edge at a set of stairs.

Quinn also explained the bond between the leader dog and the person he or she guides.

“I can tell you that I’ve witnessed death...and I’m not ashamed to say that when Mikey had to retire it was the worst day of my life,” he said. “He gave me back my confidence. It changed my attitude, it’s because of Mikey.”

Fairchild Lions Club Treasurer Mel Mitchell said she heard about Quinn when visiting the Lions district convention last year. She said she was moved by the workshop at the event and wanted to host an event for the program.

“[Quinn] is nationally known,” Mitchell said. “He is an awesome speaker. I think the audience was very receptive to this presentation, I think they learned a lot.”

Not just limiting his visit to Osseo, Quinn made the rounds with Mitchell to a number of schools, explaining the methods of the leader dog’s job with Slyder and sharing safety steps with students.

On the day before his speech, Mitchell drove Quinn and his wife to Fairchild Elementary School and Augusta Elementary and middle school as well as taking trips to both Merrillan Elementary and Alma-Center Lincoln Middle School on the day of his speaking engagement. Mitchell noted that Quinn was still to make one last stop, a trip to Osseo Elementary School the following day.

During the visit, children were excited to see the dog while the adults were impressed with how much they learned about the Leader Dog for the Blind program.

Quinn shared his enthusiasm for the updates to the kennel to help raise the dogs in a more hospitable atmosphere that evening at the podium, noting that just as the story was with beginning the program during The Great Depression, no one thought it was a feasible fundraiser. However, the past district governor shared with everyone that the totals were well on their way to ensuring the renovations be completed.

Ending his time on a hopeful note, Quinn remarked on the accomplishments the organization will achieve.

“We are the Lions, we serve,” he said to the audience with Slyder by his side. “On behalf of all of those people [we will help,] I say thank you. On behalf of this old man, for the gift of this dog--my third--I say thank you.”


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