South Mississippi Strong: Guide dog trainer Carla Anderson

South Mississippi Strong: Guide dog trainer Carla Anderson

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - It takes a special person to raise a puppy and then just give it away. Retired nurse Carla Anderson has done that 14 times so far just this year. But the dogs she is training and nurturing aren’t just any dogs. They are the animals helping to lead the blind and provide comfort and assistance to people with disabilities.

Anderson spends thousands of hours each year with dogs like Turner. One day soon, Turner will be a guide dog for a blind person.

“It’s an honor to be involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs because I have a chance to make a difference in someone’s life,” Anderson said.

While it may be hard work to train them, the hardest part comes when she has to give the dogs to their new owners.

“I am basically the foster mom, and I’m the one that’s going to get them through the level of basically high school," she explained. "I know that it’s part of the deal. I take them back, and then I go home and cry in the fur of my other dogs.”

No matter how hard it is to let them go, the work is incredibly rewarding when Anderson sees how much the special animals are helping their new owners.

“The dog becomes a social lubricant," said Anderson. “People with disabilities, either blindness or physical disabilities, with a dog by their side, it gives them confidence."

Carla Anderson is south Mississippi strong
Carla Anderson is south Mississippi strong (Source: Photo WLOX)

In addition to guide dogs, Anderson also trains therapy dogs, like Ray and Elliot, who she brings every week to Singing River Hospital. The dogs steal the show every week and are a big hit with the patients.

“These dogs will come into the room and put their head on their lap and these patients will raise their heads up, they’ll try and smile at the dogs," said SRHS patient care manager Tammy Hyatt. “We’ve seen them cry and hug the dogs. They make a big difference."

Anderson sees the difference, too.

“When I see that change come over a patient’s face, I know that the magic has happened," she said. “And the magic is not me. The magic is within the dogs."

That magic is clearly evident for patient and retired doctor Jack Hoover.

“(The dogs) show so much love and compassion, particularly for long term chronic patients," said the doctor. " They mean so much because they are so compassionate."

Sight-impaired, disabled people, and patients aren’t the only ones being helped by these amazing animals. Ray and Elliot also work their magic for the people caring for sick patients every day at the hospital.

“In the emergency room, they see some challenging cases," said Anderson. “They have rough days, and we show up with the dogs, and they forget about having a rough day."

Helping people forget troubling times is what makes these dogs so special. Anderson has a unique way of describing what they mean to our lives.

“You know, there’s a reason that dog is God spelled backward. I think that God has given us a wonderful gift in these four-legged creatures that seem to understand our moods, understand our needs.”

Earlier this year, Anderson was inducted into the puppy raisers hall of fame. She also says more volunteers are needed to raise and train dogs. For more information on how to volunteer, visit Southeastern Guide Dogs website.

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