MASON CITY — Tag checked out those sitting in the audience and he made eye contact with one.
You could almost see the light go on in his eyes: It was time to meet the group.
One by one, Tag, a 4-year-old yellow Labrador, greeted each person — sniffing hands, looking into faces — attending the talk by his owner, Staff Sgt. Dianne Raymond of the Iowa Army National Guard, also a volunteer for the Des Moines-based group, Paws and Effect.
Raymond was on hand to talk about the program’s efforts at the annual Fall Festival Fundraiser for the Humane Society of North Iowa held Sunday at the Mason City National Guard Armory.
Raymond is a puppy-raiser for the program and the owner of Tag, who came through the program. Tag at one time was a service dog for a man with multiple sclerosis but had to withdraw when he showed signs of claustrophobia.
Today, Tag is a “facility dog” who spends his days with Raymond at her job as Medical Services Board non-commissioned officer at Camp Dodge in Johnston. Tag is also a bit of a publicity hound — literally — for the organization.
The group trains leader dogs largely for the military veterans coping with permanent disabilities, as well as the hearing-impaired and autistic children.
After they are raised to 18 months, dogs spend two weeks with a handler before being matched with a veteran, she said.
“It’s interesting to see all those dogs pick their owners — they go right to a veteran and sit down right in front of them,” she said.
Tag is so in tune with Raymond, a diabetic, that he can sense when her blood sugar is dropping.
“He begins to run in circles, every time,” she said. “It was awhile before even I knew what he was doing.”
The dogs provide a valuable service, from opening doors and retrieving items to “putting themselves between their master and danger,” she said.