Do you know someone who uses a guide dog or has had one in the past? Have you considered getting some vision impaired aids including a guide dog? Maybe you aren’t sure if you qualify, where you’d find one or if you need a service animal. These are all valid concerns. Deciding to get a guide dog is not a decision to take lightly. Choosing to partner with a furry companion is a big responsibility but can also be very rewarding.
To celebrate National Guide Dog Month, we’re offering some tips for you to consider as you navigate this decision.
Whether or not you want to join the approximately 10,000 guide dog teams in the U.S. is truly a personal decision. All guide dog schools require applicants to have good orientation and mobility skills. Do you know how to use a cane? Do you rely on sighted guide assistance when you are out and about? Are you needing or wanting more independence? For example, if you plan to head out to college or an unfamiliar location and are not the most efficient cane user, you could be a good candidate for a guide dog.
Here are several guide dog schools located in the United States and throughout the world. When choosing a school, check to see if they are a member of the International Guide Dog federation. This organization has 95 member organizations located within 32 countries. The IGDF is responsible for developing and monitoring the parameters that all of its member organizations must follow when training guide dogs and guide dog teams. To maintain their membership, they are evaluated every five years. Furthermore, to become a voting member, schools go through a long rigorous process.
The qualifications applicants must meet first in order to be paired with a trained guide dog. All require that students are legally blind, which means your vision is 20/200.
When you’ve decided on a guide dog school, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with their application process. Many of these applications ask for letters of recommendation. You’ll be responsible for the welfare of an animal whose rearing, training and partnering took up to a year and a half to complete. Before you two meet, the dog has already taken a long journey. The cost of this training, your transportation and other expenses could easily reach $50,000. You will receive your dog free of charge. The school must be sure your character is impeccable.
You’ll also need to provide proof of disability in order to get many vision impaired aids. This will most likely be a letter from your doctor. Finally, you might have to provide footage of yourself walking so the trainers can gauge your walking speed and mannerisms in order to match you with the best dog.
Another valuable resource for those considering whether to apply for a guide dog is The National Guide Dog User Association. Here, members can chat through an email list, receive a member newsletter and educate members and the general public of the rights and responsibilities of those with guide dogs.
Getting a guide dog can be a positive and life-changing experience out of all the vision impaired aids. You have the opportunity to establish a relationship built on trust and respect that may last for years. Ask questions to make sure you are comfortable and know what to expect. Remember the guide dog schools specialize in this field and are great resources.