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Guide Dogs for the Blind's History

Guide Dogs for the Blind's Co-Founder Lois Merrihew walking with a guide dog while under blindfold, circa 1942.

It all began with a dream—the dream of creating the first guide dog training school on the West Coast. It was a dream shared by Lois Merrihew and Don Donaldson who volunteered their efforts along with many others. They believed in the potential of dogs to serve as guides for people who were blind or visually impaired.

America's involvement in World War II brought the realization that veterans who had been blinded in combat would be returning to San Francisco from the Pacific Ocean Theater. Lois and Don offered their expertise to the American Women's Voluntary Services (AWVS). With the help of AWVS Director Mrs. Stanhope Nixon, San Francisco Chair Mrs. Nion Tucker, and others, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) was born.

Guide Dogs for the Blind was incorporated on May 27, 1942, and Lois and Don began training dogs and instructing students from a rented home in Los Gatos, California (south of San Jose). A German Shepherd named Blondie, who had been rescued from a Pasadena dog shelter, was one of the first dogs trained. 

Guide Dogs for the Blind’s first class consisted of two students, Mr. Lemoyne Cox of Oakland, and Mrs. Marjorie Cosgrove of San Francisco, who were paired with Lady and Vicki, both German Shepherd dogs. (Pictured below, left.) The third class in October 1943 included the school's first World War II veteran, Sgt. Leonard Foulk. At age 26, Foulk was blinded when his binoculars were hit by sniper fire at the Battle of Attu. He graduated with Lois and Don’s original training dog, Blondie. (Pictured below, right.)

In 1947, GDB moved to the present location of our California campus in San Rafael, California (about 20 miles north of San Francisco). In order to meet the increasing demand for our services, we opened a second campus in Boring, Oregon (about 25 miles east of Portland), in the Fall of 1995. The first class of guide dog clients at the Oregon campus graduated in October of that year.

Two historical photos side by side. On the left is Guide Dogs for the Blind's Co-Founder Don Donaldson with the first class of two students. On the right is Sgt. Leonard Foulk and his guide dog Blondie, the first serviceman to graduate from Guide Dogs for the Blind.