Seeing through my canine’s eyes

We love our dogs for many reasons—they’re confidants, walking partners and companions. But what if your life depends on a dog every single day? This is what it means for a person to have a Guide Dog. It may be the best example yet of the reciprocal relationship between humans and dogs. US-based ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’ provides a place for Guide Dogs and blind people to come together in the presence of top trainers and dedicated volunteers. Here’s more on this noble organisation.

Dogs have been our faithful companions since time immemorial but there are some extraordinary canines blessed with unique techniques and superior work ethics that have gone above and beyond their roles as pets and emerged as heroes in the true sense for their pet parents. 

Meet one of the heroes…there are many more 

Meet Timber, a Labrador, who miraculously saved his pet parent from a car that was hurtling towards them. He pulled his owner, Arthur Griffiths, out of the way of the car, which had crashed and was spinning towards where they were standing. Arthur could not see the car because he was blind, he saw through Timber’s eyes! There are many such dogs like Timber, who have stepped like angels into the lives of visually impaired men and women and helped them get along with theirlives. 

Who are these guiding angels?

A Guide Dog is a loving companion, trained to provide mobility and independence to his visually impaired partner. He has a quiet and calm disposition, a high level of concentration while working and a strong will to work. He leads, obeys commands, avoids distractions and disobeys a command if he foresees danger. The person is responsible for directing the dog by keeping a mental map, being leader of the team and providing care and praise. Through teamwork and companionship, they share a bond of trust and love.

Ray of hope

The idea of ‘man’s best friend’ coming to the aid of blind, all began with a dream- the dream of creating the first guide dog training school. It was a dream shared by Lois Merrihew and Don Donaldson who recognised the need to help wounded servicemen who would return from the World War II without their sight. 

With an aim to provide a lifetime partnership to the visually impaired, an NGO called ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’ was established in 1942 in San Rafael, California. The organization dedicated to enhancing mobility and quality of life of our visually impaired counterparts has now emerged as the largest school of its kind producing more than 11,000 partnerships across the United States and Canada. 

Programmes for blind adults

One of the unique features of their program is their lifetime promise of support. Not only do they create the best partnerships, they are also there to offer support throughout the life of a Guide Dog team and the organization is there to assist them through all transitions. 

K9 buddies for blind youth

A dog can make a remarkable difference in any child’s life by fostering a sense of caring, companionship and responsibility through human-animal bond. K9 Buddy Program matches specially selected dogs to become wonderful companions to visually impaired children and young adults under 18 years of age. A dog can contribute to heightening of sensory development, motivating a child to learn and enhancing self-esteem. The dogs come from Guide Dogs’ own colony, but are not qualified to work as mobility assistance dogs.

Caring for the canines…throughout their life

Both the handler and the dog are trained together in well-equipped dormitories. The end of class training is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of our new Guide Dog teams. A public ceremony marks not only the conclusion of the team’s training, but the beginning of a fantastic journey beyond the organisation. At graduation, the dogs’ puppy raisers are invited to attend and formally present their former charges to the dog’s new partners. After graduating, students and their Guide Dogs are ready to tackle any challenge life throws their way. 

However, their involvement with their alumni doesn’t end on graduation day. Their unique comprehensive program of alumni services ensure that graduates and their dogs are supported throughout the life of the team. 

Through their strong connections with local veterinarians, puppy raising clubs, agencies and organizations, they have a powerful network to offer support and camaraderie. Their extensive follow-up program is the most comprehensive of its kind, including everything from phone consultation, personal home visits, education, advocacy, networking and many things in between! 

Other training programmes…

Also, the organization provides customised training to meet the needs of specific incoming students. Besides, Guide Dogs for the Blind also offers a guide dog wheelchair program, which began as a way to provide continued services to former graduates who through health or trauma faced the challenge of wheelchair use for mobility in addition to their blindness. As a second stage to accepting applicants into the guide dog wheelchair program, Guide Dogs for the Blind opened its training to graduates of other Guide Dog schools who had been successful guide dog users. 

The bond between a blind person and a guide dog is truly one of the most intimate collaborations. Three cheers for these beautiful and lovable four-legged champs! 

For more info, contact Guide Dogs for the Blind at: www.guidedogs.com

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