Our History: The Pilot Dogs Story

How We Got Our Start

The foresight of three individuals - Stanley Doran, visually impaired since the seventh grade; Charles W. Medick, a Columbus auto dealer and father of a blind child; and Everett R. Steece, an Administrator for the then Services for the Blind in Ohio - laid the foundation for Pilot Dogs to be chartered as a non-profit organization in January 1950. Their efforts were enhanced from Chicago with the interest of Bishop Bernard J. Sheil and much-needed financial support from Henry Staffel, president of Perk Foods. Mr. Staffel’s program for returning Vet’s brand dog food labels met with great success. Soon 850,000 returns were received for an annual income of $60,000 to Pilot Dogs. Prime collections were done by the American Legion Auxiliary of Illinois.

Friends of Mr. Medick and other interested individuals offered their services to comprise the first ten-person Board of Directors. To this day, we operate under their original Mission Statement: To provide the finest of guide dogs to the qualified sightless. This service was made available without charge, and included the Pilot Dog, four weeks in-residence training, and round trip transportation.

Four people were trained with their Pilot Dogs in 1950, and from this humble beginning the program has grown to serve approximately 150 students every year. Over 5,000 openings in the training schedule have been filled since 1950.

Becoming ‘Lions Pilot Dogs’

Since our start-up, a few Lions Clubs-mainly in the Columbus area-have donated money and time to this project of mobility. Lions Clyde R. Tipton and Dwight Swepston, members of the Tri-Village Lions Club, presented a motion in 1960 at the State Convention of the Ohio Lions to adopt Pilot Dogs as a state project. This became a reality at the 41st Convention and Pilot Dogs was granted permission to be known as “Lions Pilot Dogs” by Lions International. Over 500 Clubs now support our service to the blind.

Acquiring Land and Facilities

The four individuals that made up our first training class were housed in the private home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Fawcett. This was in the University area which provided excellent opportunities to socialize the dogs, thanks to the heavy student traffic. In 1952, the Board of Directors purchased property from the Community Center. A building was designed to provide in-residence training and a small office. The Pilot Home remains at this site, 625 West Town Street, and has been updated and expanded over the years. These enhancements have enabled us to handle more classes-while still keeping class sizes small-and to provide more individual attention to each placement. Surrounding properties have also been acquired to provide a park for the trainees and their Pilot Dogs.

Dr. J.H. Knapp and the Columbus Academy of Veterinarians provided expertise for the building of our kennel on Stimmel Road. In May, 1963 the Treatment Center for the care of the animals was dedicated. To that original facility of 46 runs, additions were made which now make it possible to house 150 animals in training, along with an adjoining Puppy Nursery.

This facility is one of the finest in the country. The volunteer veterinarians from the Columbus Academy, the donations of medicines from pharmaceutical firms, and their own actual time all add greatly to the well being of the Pilot Dogs in training.