It may take a village to raise a child, but to raise a Guiding Eyes dog requires perhaps an even more complex organization (and with far more predictably excellent results, I might add). From the time a puppy is a twinkle in its daddy’s eye to the day of graduation when the dog and its blind owner walk off together, hundreds of Guiding Eye volunteers and trainers will be working non-stop to raise that dog to be extraordinary. It’s a $45,000 undertaking for each dog.
But since 1954, Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been providing dogs to the visually impaired and blind at no cost to them. Dependent completely on private donations and the incredible volunteer efforts of more than 1,200 dog-loving folks, Guiding Eyes has provided guide dogs to more than 7,200 people who are able to lead lives of dignity, achievement, security, and independence.
Like so much in life, success starts with excellent genes. For over 50 years, Guiding Eyes has been perfecting a well-established breeding colony that produces dogs of superlative temperament: healthy, calm, confident in all environments, decisive, focused and with good social manners. As any parent could tell you, those traits don’t just happen. Guiding Eyes produces these remarkable dogs in a methodical, labor-intensive, constantly assessed, and sweetly loving process.
It begins with Brood & Stud volunteers who foster the breeding dogs in their homes for 8-10 years (they can adopt them afterwards). Once the puppies are born, the serious love-training begins, with volunteers filling those first frisky 8 weeks with early socialization, puppy massage, lessons in walking, coming, and sitting, and general adoration. Then comes the Test.
Between 4-8 weeks, Guiding Eyes staff will evaluate the pups and determine which ones will go on to live with volunteer Puppy Raisers and potentially, work with the blind. (Other career options include police work, pets, or breeders.) Puppy Raisers from Maine down to North Carolina and west to Ohio, in regional clusters, take the dogs for 12-16 months and train, socialize, love, exercise and prepare the pups for their ultimate role as guide dogs.
When the dogs are returned to Guiding Eyes at about 2 years old, they embark on a 5-month intensive program of training with staff before they meet their partner. And this is where the magic truly happens. Once a blind person applies for a guide dog, is accepted, assessed and matched with a dog, the two will bond and learn to work together in 26 days of training at the Guiding Eyes facility in Patterson, New York. At graduation, staff and volunteers witness the results of all their years of hard work, a truly life-changing moment for the blind graduates. (A new program Heeling Autism also matches dogs trained to provide safety for children with Autism.)
This is the work of Guiding Eyes and its heroic dogs. Provided for free to those who are blind –but anyone can see the love behind it all.
(p.s. Guiding Eyes is always looking for new volunteers so if this post has you drooling for a puppy, this one’s for you!)