Founded in 1942 and chartered in May of that year, Guide Dogs for the Blind was the first guide dog school established on the West Coast. Founders Lois Merihew and Donald Donaldson started the school to pair service dogs with veterans who had become blind through combat in World War II.
From 1942 to 1947, training took place out of a private home in Santa Rosa, California. In 1947, Guide Dogs moved to its current San Rafael, California location. In October 1995, the school opened a branch campus in Boring, Oregon.
Though German Shepherds were initially trained as guides, the school in San Rafael graduated its last German Sheperd/student team in 2009. The breeds that they use now include: Labrador Golden Retriever crosses, Black Labs, and Yellow Labs. Chocolate Labs are not used because they have a genetic predisposition to behavioral and health problems, according to Wikipedia. Although most of the breeding is done on the San Rafael campus, Guide Dogs also partners with breeders worldwide to ensure a diverse gene pool.
Preparing dogs for guide work begins when they are just 8 weeks old, at which time they are placed with families who raise them. To socialize dogs and get them used to people, raisers take them everywhere. About a year and a half later, or when dogs are between 14 and 18 months old, they are returned to the school and undergo continuous assessment throughout training. Dogs deemed unsuitable for guide work are referred to as “career change dogs,” and serve in capacities like Community Canines, companions for blind/vision-impaired children, and Dogs for Diabetics. Some dogs, however, are adopted by their raisers or by other individuals in the community.
Community Canines are sometimes placed at agencies for the blind, and companions for children enable prospective guide dog users to learn proper care and responsible ownership before receiving a guide dog of their own.
Guide Dogs for the Blind has also developed presentations for blindness agency workers, law enforcement personnel, mobility specialists, and prospective employers
Some final notes about the school are that they offer guide dog lifestyle workshops, financial veterinary assistance, and keep interested individuals informed through newsletters, podcasts and social media (The school can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).
For more information or to apply for a dog, go to www.guidedogs.com, or call toll-free: 1-800-295-4050. The school’s website gives addresses to its California and Oregon campuses; phone numbers for each, and fax numbers. There are also links through which topic specific E-mails can be sent.
In 1980 and 1982, I received dog guides from the San Rafael campus and really enjoyed my time there. I’d be interested in hearing in the Reader’s Forum from others who lived on the San Rafael campus and have had other interactions with the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization.