LEMOORE — Sophomore Janson Cunningham held his new friend, La Forge, in his arms Tuesday while he explained that the puppy was named after the blind “Star Trek” character — a fitting tribute, as the student will spend the next year training the dog to be a guide for the visually impaired.
Students in the Lemoore High School FFA Guide Dog Puppy Raising Project have been raising and socializing puppies for the Guide Dogs for the Blind program since the late 1980s. Each student is tasked with raising a puppy from eight weeks to 13-15 months old, at which point the dog transfers to San Rafael for specialized guide-dog training.
The program, headed by Marybeth Hearn, has been named Organization of the Year by the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce and will be honored at its 61st annual Installation Banquet on Friday, Jan. 18.
“We were all very surprised. The students aren’t paid for this, it’s completely volunteer-based and they, along with their families, put a lot of time and effort into raising these animals. Some mornings, I see the students dragging in, looking like they’ve been through the ringer with new puppies, so it’s quite an honor,” Hearn said.
Cunningham received La Forge — the program’s youngest dog — just three before talking to the Sentinel, saying he wanted to be a part of the program as a way to give back to those who need the dogs – people like Cunningham’s uncle who was struck by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. The explosion left the man with brain damage; Several others died.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind program began in 1942 as a way to help veterans who had been blinded in World War II.
“I was inspired to help,” Cunningham said.
The students are with the dogs as much of the day as possible, going with them everywhere in order to prepare the furry friends for their 24/7 duty when they’re eventually matched up with someone blind or visually impaired.
The students, around a dozen of which are in the program, point out that they’ve gone to restaurants, church, salons and even to movies with the dogs in their care. The dogs also accompany them to class when they’re a little older.
“Our job is to expose these dogs to as many different situations as possible. We have no idea what the lifestyle of the blind person is going to be, so we have to expose these dogs to as much as possible,” Hearn said.
About 60 percent of the dogs in the program will go on to be guides. Those that don’t make it are considered “career change dogs” and may go on to serve other roles including joining the Dogs for Diabetes or Hearing Dog programs or may be paired with a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are currently more than 2,000 families participating in the puppy-raising program across 10 western states.
The oldest dog in the Lemoore program, Mentor, will leave for guide dog training next month – always a bittersweet time for each trainer.
“It’s horrible,” Sierra Phelps, who has raised three dogs, said in way that was a mixture of joke and truth.
“We get attached, but we know the dogs are going to someone who really needs them,” Cunningham said.
Hearn said that raising the puppies over the year helps students learn responsibility and may even help them be better parents later in life.
Unlike a fair project, where FFA students will care for a farm animal for around 60 days, these dogs will remain in each student’s care for a full fourth of their time in high school and many of the students raise multiple dogs over the span of their high school careers.
The program uses Labradors and Golden Retrievers.
The program will be honored by the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce alongside Citizen of the Year, Dr. Willie B. Ewing, M.D., Business of the Year, Sushi Table and Public Safety Individual of the Year Abimael Shiyomura.
HANFORD —Hanford police are searching for 31-year-old Nathaniel Hunt in connection to a gas station robbery.
Around 1:25 p.m. on Dec. 28, department officials said they received a call from a clerk at the Sinclair Gas Station at 711 E Lacey Blvd., who said she had just been robbed.
The clerk told officers a male entered the store with what appeared to be a gun in his pocket and told her to get away from the cash register.
Police said the man attempted to open the cash register, but was unsuccessful. However, they said he was able to take lottery tickets, cigarettes and alcohol before he fled on a bicycle.
During the investigation, officers were able to identify the man as Hunt. Officials said Hunt has prior arrests for theft of lottery tickets and robbery.
Anyone with information about Hunt’s location is asked to contact the Hanford Police Department at 585-2540.
With the elections now over, many elected officials have been sworn in an taken office. Here is a list of the local and state representatives contact information.
The Hanford City Council meetings are on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. for regular session, in the Council Chambers, 400 N. Douty St., Hanford. Visit www.cityofhanfordca.com.
Kings County Board of Supervisors meetings are each Tuesday at 9 a.m., for regular session in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at the Kings County Government Center, 1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford, 852-2362. Visit www.countyofkings.com.
The Lemoore City Council meetings are on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 7:30 p.m., in the Lemoore City Council Chambers, 429 C St., Lemoore. Visit www.lemoore.com.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, 2500 Tulare St., Suite 4290, Fresno. Phone: Office 485-7430 and fax 485-9689. Washington, DC Office, 331 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510. Phone: Office 202-224-3841 and fax 202-228-3954.
Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif, 2500 Tulare St., Suite 5290, Fresno Phone: Office 497-5109 and fax (202) 228-3864. Washington, DC Office, 112 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510. Phone: Office 202-224-3553.
Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, Hanford office: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Hanford Office, 113 Court St., Suite 201, Hanford. Phone: Office 585-7170, fax 585-7175 or visit asmdc.org.
Rep. TJ Cox, D-Bakersfield office: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bakersfield Office, 2700 M St., Suite 250B, Bakersfield. Visit cox.house.gov. Washington, D.C. Office, 1728 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515. Phone: Office 202-225-4695 and fax 202-225-3196.
State Senator Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger office hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Hanford office, 113 Court St., Suite 205, Hanford. Phone: 585-7161 or visit district14.cssrc.us. Sacramento Office, State Capitol, Room 2054, Sacramento, CA 95814-4900. Phone: Office 916-651-4014 and fax 916-651-4914.
HANFORD — Reports of trash piling up and human feces littering the state’s most beautiful national parkland have surfaced amidst the government shutdown, which is why the Libertarian Party of Kings County is taking measures into its own hands.
The Libertarian Party of Kings County has taken it upon itself to pick up the slack and members are organizing trash pick-up days at national parks in Central California and are asking for help from every community member willing to do what the government can’t during a shutdown.
“It is up to us to look out for and maintain our community,” Kalish Morrow, chair of Libertarian Party of Kings County, said in an email. “We can't let our national treasures look like a trash heap, not if there's something we can do about it.”
Morrow said since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22, some Libertarian groups around the nation that have volunteered to help pitch in with cleaning up, such as around the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Lake Mead in Nevada.
She said these efforts inspired her to look at local national parks, where she noticed there was a need for volunteers in Yosemite.
Due to the shutdown, funding for national parks — including Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon — has been slashed, leaving them with little to no restroom facilities and essential custodial services.
Visitors have flooded the parks, taking advantage of free entry through gates that are most likely unmanned by the limited staff available.
The Libertarian Party of Kings County will be at Yosemite National Park on Sunday, Jan. 13, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. for a cleanup effort. Members and others who are interested will meet in Hanford that morning and caravan up to the park.
Morrow said the Libertarian Party of Kings County will be participating in a lot more events that benefit the community in the coming months and wants the group to be a positive force in the community this year that leads by example.
Yosemite National Park remains open, albeit with limited access to the park along the Highway 41 corridor from the South Entrance to the Badger Pass Road. Certain trails and campgrounds at Yosemite have been closed due to trash, human waste and other safety reasons, officials said.
The following facilities and areas inside Yosemite National Park are closed due to impacts from human waste and public safety concerns: Wawona Campground, Hodgdon Meadow Campground, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Crane Flat Snow Play Area, and Goat Meadow Snow Play Area, located just outside the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park. All park visitor centers remain closed.
Officials said similar conditions of overflowing trash and human waste, as well as illegal fire rings and campfires made the Sequoia and Kings Canyon park areas unsafe to visitors and wildlife. Both parks were closed completely as of Jan. 2 and it’s likely the closure will remain in effect for the duration of the government shutdown.
“Bathroom facilities in all locations are unsanitary and unhealthy, resulting in facility closures and human waste and toilet paper accumulation,” said a post on the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Facebook page. “Overflowing trash receptacles have resulted in animals eating and spreading trash around.”
It’s still unclear when the government shutdown will end and park officials said additional facilities and areas may close within Yosemite National Park at any time for the health and safety of park visitors. They want to remind visitors that park rules are still in place and violators can still be cited.