South Charlotte

Want to take your dog to work?

Imagine how great it would be if you could take your dog to work every day. They would keep you company all day long, hang out while you have lunch and happily greet all your coworkers with a wagging tail.

For Ellen Horn, a resident of Bishops Ridge neighborhood, it is not only possible, but a necessity.

Horn, in her mid-50s, is director of multi-channel marketing for Belk. She moved here from St. Louis, Mo., where she was already working for Belk.

When Belk offered her the job in Charlotte in 2001, she made the move.

Then in 2004, Murphy, her 10-year-old golden retriever died. Horn was devastated and missed having a dog, but at that point she was not fully ready to commit to becoming a dog owner again.

Then she heard about the Southeastern Guide Dogs from a coworker. The nonprofit organization, located in Palmetto, Fla., provides a guide dog to people with vision impairments, at no cost to the recipient. It also provides assist dogs to veterans.

Since the program started in 1982, it has matched more than 2,500 dogs with owners.

Participants act as foster parents to the puppies from age nine weeks up until a little over a year.

The foster parents teach socialization skills and basic commands to the puppy. Those include house training, getting them accustomed to new people and situations and teaching them to sit, lie down and stay on command.

The puppies continue their instruction when they go back to the Southeastern Guide Dog center, where they also undergo extensive training with their new owner as a team.

Here in Charlotte, about 40 people are part of the Charlotte Puppy Raisers, who foster dogs for Southeastern Guide Dogs. Horn became a member when she got her first puppy back in 2004. Since then, she's fostered and trained several dogs for the school. She's also the current leader of the group.

Her companion is Lexie, a Labrador who is a little over a year old. Everyone at Horn's workplace knows Lexie, and because she's so sweet, everyone wants to pet her.

Since Lexie is "working," she wears a coat that identifies her as a guide dog in training. It's really best if people do not touch her when she's in work mode, as it is distracting, and Horn's goal is to keep Lexie focused.

But when Lexie isn't wearing the coat, she's "just a dog," said Horn, and, like most dogs, enjoys love and attention from people.

Lexie went back to Southeastern in June, and Horn feels the sadness associated with saying goodbye.

When she took Lexie back to Southeastern, she had the opportunity to watch as all the dogs were matched to their new owners.

As hard as it was to give Lexie up, there is also a satisfying feeling for Horn that comes with knowing she played a pivotal role in Lexie's development into a guide dog.

Two of the previous dogs Horn has hosted did not make it through to graduation. One was not socialized enough, and one had bad hips.

You can guess what happened, right?

Horn kept them, and now they are her loving pets. She's not planning to get another puppy right away.

After Lexie's return, Horn is going to take a little break before she decides whether to take in another puppy.

"But I said that before," she said. When she's not busy raising puppies, she's taking one of her other dogs to nursing homes to act as a therapy dog, bringing joy to the residents.