Cycle run goes to dogs

Harley riders don’t really need much of an excuse to go for a ride.

Just point them toward a country lane when they have some free time, and they’ll show up in bunches just to thunder down the road.

Give them a good cause to support and some money to raise and they’ll muster a good-sized gang.

About 30 bikers showed up at the Buckhall Volunteer Fire Department on Saturday morning for a 150-mile ride through Northern Virginia to raise money for Guide Dogs of America, an organization that provides seeing-eye dogs to the blind in North America.

John Kennedy helped organize the second annual Hawgs for Dogs Charity Motorcycle Run which was hosted by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Capitol Air Lodge 1759.

He said it costs about $25,000 to pair a guide dog with a blind recipient.

It takes four months to train a dog to be a guide dog and an additional month to train the recipient and dog together, Kennedy said.

Costs include, travel, training, room and board for the blind recipient, care and feeding of the dogs, vaccinations for puppies, leashes, collars and specially designed harnesses.

Puppy training and sponsorship comprises a substantial portion of the cost of preparing a dog to guide the blind.

According to a video showing at the fire department during registration for the run, guide dog puppies live with a host family for about nine months before they enter the formal training school in Sylmar, Calif.

While they are with their host families, the puppies are socialized, trained and evaluated for their temperament and ability to become a guide dog, according to the video.

Mike Flynn said he is one of the bikers who will ride at the drop of a helmet, but he’s always ready to ride for the dogs.

“I’ve always supported the Guide Dogs,” said Flynn, of Calvert County, Md.

In fact, Flynn said, he toured the school in California and visited with several families who hosted puppies.

The families don’t like to give up the puppies when it’s time for formal classes, but feel better when the dogs are paired with a blind person, said Flynn, a union health and safety director.

“They said it’s the hardest thing to do, but when they go to the graduation, they say it’s all worth it,” Flynn, 48, said before the ride as he munched on donated doughnuts.

The blind are never charged for a dog.

“What’s amazing is that it doesn’t cost anybody that goes there [the training school in Sylmar] a dime. It’s all run through donations and it’s free for anybody,” Flynn said.

The bunch who rode Saturday raised about $8,800 by the end of the day, and there were still some checks in the mail, Kennedy said after a raffle and barbecue dinner at the fire station.

Additionally, local businesses donated prizes for the raffle, Kennedy said.

“Everything you see here was donated. We didn’t pay for a thing,” Kennedy said as he gestured toward the folding banquet tables, which held T-shirts, baseball caps, key chains, pen and pencil sets, luggage, books, videotapes, coffee mugs and jackets.

Many of the riders participated in a 50/50 raffle to raise additional money.

“Every nickel that comes through here goes to the dogs,” Kennedy said.

For more information about guide dogs and the blind, visit http://www.guidedogsofamerica. org, or call Guide Dogs of America at (818) 362-5834. To contact Hawgs for Dogs, send e-mail to: [email protected]

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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