SAN DIEGO, January 21, 2014 — Glaucoma leads to loss of peripheral vision or blindness if it is not properly treated.
There are approximately 10 million Americans who are blind and visually impaired, and close to 1.3 million who are considered legally blind, according to guidedogs.com.
Further, it is estimated that approximately 10,000 people in the United States and Canada use guide dogs.
Germany opened their doors to the first known guide dog training schools as they responded to the needs of war-weary wounded and blinded soldiers–their World War I veterans.
America later opened its first guide organization, The Seeing Eye Institute, in 1929.
Today, guide dog organizations exist all over the world.
People who are visually impaired or legally blind may integrate into society while conducting normal functions of everyday life with the faithful support of a trained guide dog companion–often considered an integral member of the family.
For children who are visually impaired or blind due to congenital glaucoma, the security of owning a guide dog provides the opportunity to engage safely and securely in school and a variety of other childhood activities which would otherwise be unavailable.
There is no doubt that a guide dog provides increased well-being, unconditional love, companionship, security, social engagement, exercise, and more while enabling access to a cadre of activities and interests safely executed in and out of the home environment.
Some dog breeds are genetically best-suited for the role of guide dog.
Commonly known guide dog breeds include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Standard Poodles.
Dogs known for their hypoallergenic qualities include breeds such as Standard Poodles, Labradoodles, and Golden Retriever/Labrador mixes–all suited for the critical role of guide dog for those prone to allergies.
Guide dog training institutes generally have their own dog breeding facilities, producing future guide dogs.
Each dog is assessed for its inherent characteristics, temperament, intelligence, abilities, and a recognizable proclivity for wanting to be busy and actively engaged in meaningful work.
Puppies that are selected for the guide dog program are placed at the age of 7 weeks into the homes of vetted volunteer family homes.
Members of the volunteer families are screened by the guide dog organization, to ensure their appropriateness for the program.
The commitment by the families is a big one, and they maintain the responsibility for feeding housebreaking, socializing, and exercising the new puppy while also beginning the process of training them to grow into fine guide dogs– generally at their own expense.
Loving and grooming the next generation of guide dogs requires commitment and great passion for the program.
At approximately 14-18 months, the young dog will be returned to the guide dog training school, where he or she will be placed with a suitable visually impaired or blind person who will become their new owner.
Ensuring that the dog is ideally matched with the new owner’s size, personality, and lifestyle, the month-long in-residence training program begins creating an interdependent and meaningful life for the duration of the dog’s service.
Training will teach the guide dog to be protective of and helpful to the new owner, while teaching them both how to live together harmoniously, how to adapt to each other’s needs, how to navigate and manage basic household functions, cross streets and roadways, go out publicly and attend school, events, participate in a variety of activities, accompany the owner to the workplace, access transportation services, and more while ensuring safe and successful passage.
The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures safe and non-discriminatory public access for guide dog and owner alike, ensuring the greatest amount of freedom, enjoyment and mobility.
The following resources may be helpful for accessing programs for the visually impaired, volunteer opportunities, and guide dog training institutes:
The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
371 East Jerico Turnpike
Smithtown, NY 11787-2976
Guide Dogs of the Desert
60735 Dillon Road
Whitewater, CA 92282
Childhood Glaucoma Network
“A meeting place for parents, caretakers, and adults living with or affected by congenital or childhood glaucoma.”
“Blindness is a private matter between a person and the eyes with which he or she was born.” -Joseph Samayo, Blindness
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is a health care provider of over 30 years. As a featured “Communities Digital News” columnist, LifeCycles with Laurie Edwards-Tate emphasizes healthy aging and maintaining independence, while delighting and informing its readers. Laurie is a recognized expert in home and community-based, long-term care services, and is also an educator.
In addition to writing for “Communities Digital News,” Laurie is the President and CEO of her firm, At Your Home Familycare, which serves persons of all ages who are disabled and infirm with a variety of non-medical, in-home care and concierge services.
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