Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A Southeastern Guide Dog is sponsored by city of Clearwater


After she and Sunny — a puppy wearing a blue "Guide Dog in Training" cape — were turned away from Clearwater's Sea-Blues Festival at Coachman Park in February, Stephanie Miller turned to the city's Facebook page. "Sorry that we won't be able to hear (the musical lineup). My Southeastern Guide Dog in training and I were just denied access to the venue," she wrote.

That's after she had pointed out the pup's blue cape, provided credentials and quoted a Florida law that says any service dog in training has the same public access rights as a working dog.

After reading Miller's post, Joelle Castelli, the city's public communications director, responded with a heartfelt apology and assurance it wouldn't happen again.

"Our tail is between our legs," Castelli posted. "Can we buy your pup a dog biscuit?"

But Miller, Pinellas County Schools' Exceptional Student Education Coordinator, had a better idea: Would the city sponsor a Southeastern Guide Dog pup?

She would, she said, raise not only the puppy, but awareness about guide dogs, their role in the lives of the visually impaired, and their public access rights.

Castelli and Mayor George Cretekos were intrigued and visited the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus in Palmetto.

It only took a few wet puppy kisses from some bouncy Labrador retrievers for Cretekos to be swayed.

"There is no way you are not going to fall in love with those puppies," he said. "Plus, it was the right thing to do. Coastie is an ambassador, not only for us, but to make people aware of the need out there to help others."

Southeastern Guide Dogs, in business for 30 years, is one of 12 accredited guide dog schools in the nation and the only one in the southeast United States.

So far, about 2,600 Southeastern Guide Dog teams have been created. It costs about $60,000 to fund a guide dog team from breeding to training to matching with a recipient and lifetime followup care. There is no cost to the receiver of a guide dog.

For their $3,500 puppy training sponsorship, Clearwater received naming rights. Officials chose the moniker "Coastie" in honor of the city's recent designation as a Coast Guard City.

The yellow Lab is now 7 months old. His photo graces the cover of the fall issue of My Clearwater, a magazine published by the city.

He is one of about 260 puppies — Labs, golden retrievers, and "goldadors" (a mix of the two breeds) — being raised now by volunteer puppy raisers like Miller who teach basic obedience skills and expose the puppies to everyday life.

Coastie is Miller's third guide puppy. She received him at 9 weeks old and will keep him for 12 to 15 months. Then he'll work with a certified guide dog trainer for another six to nine months to learn at least 40 commands. After that, he will be paired up with his new owner.

Miller knows when the time comes to say goodbye, it will be a bittersweet moment.

"It's like sending your child off to college, not knowing if or when you will see them again.

"I may want the dog, but I know someone else needs the dog."

.Fast facts

Southeastern Guide Dogs

To donate money, volunteer, raise puppies, provide host homes or learn more about Southeastern Guide Dogs, located in Palmetto, visit

A Southeastern Guide Dog is sponsored by city of Clearwater 10/06/12 [Last modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 3:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  2. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  3. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot


    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of
  4. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  5. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]