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80 Years Strong: GDB IS Just Getting Started!

Wednesday January 12, 2022

GDB CEO Christine Benninger holds a yellow Lab puppy

2022 marks Guide Dogs for the Blind’s (GDB’s) 80th anniversary! Our mission of empowering lives by creating exceptional partnerships between people, dogs, and communities continues in new and exciting ways.

“It’s been quite a journey and through it all innovation and our supportive community have been paramount to our culture,” says GDB President and CEO Christine Benninger. “Throughout the year, we’ll celebrate milestones and introduce new services that bring our mission to life.”

“GDB really does change lives. Our graduates live fuller, more independent lives, as students, parents, professors, engineers, Olympians, and more.” On average, most clients will have four or more guide dogs. With each successor dog, a client’s needs may change, but GDB’s continuity of support will never waiver. “We are committed to providing a lifetime of support to all of our clients. Because without the right support, people don’t just miss out on improved mobility, they miss out on living more abundant, inclusive lives,” says Christine.

A Big Dream Becomes a Reality
GDB began with a dream of creating the first guide dog training school on the West Coast. Lois Merrihew and Don Donaldson recognized the need to help wounded servicemen who would return from World War II after losing their sight. They believed in the potential of dogs to serve as guides for the blind. In May 1942, Lois and Don incorporated GDB’s guide dog school and began instructing clients in a rented home in Los Gatos, California. In 1947 GDB moved to our current location in San Rafael, about 20 miles north of San Francisco. A second campus in Boring, Oregon opened in 1995 to meet the increasing demand for our services.

Innovative Leadership
Over the past 80 years, GDB has grown into the largest guide dog school in North America, partnering nearly 16,000 people with guide dogs from all walks of life. “Through it all, innovation and the support of our amazing community have been paramount to our culture,” says Christine. Thousands of volunteer puppy raisers have nurtured and socialized guide dog puppies to help prepare them for their journey to become guide dogs.

GDB was a leader in adopting and enhancing positive reinforcement in the training of guide dogs, developing techniques that have produced our world-class instructors who work their magic to maximize each dog’s potential to become exceptional guide dogs. Other examples of GDB’s global leadership include: GDB’s State-of-the-art Puppy Center, canine genetic research work to help more dogs reach their full potential, Camp GDB, K9 Buddy program, and the Orientation & Mobility Immersion program.

What’s Next
One of the most exciting developments in 2022 is the expansion of GDB’s K9 Buddy Program. The program matches youth who are blind or visually impaired with specially selected dogs to become pets and companions, in preparation for the guide dog lifestyle. “Soon, more K9 Buddies will be placed with families free of charge from all over the U.S. and Canada,” says Christine.

Going forward, GDB will continue to expand its Orientation & Mobility Immersion program to address the critical gap of people who want a guide dog but lack the orientation and mobility skills to qualify for one, so more people can acquire the skills they need, free of charge, to live their best lives.

In mid-January, GDB will launch a new podcast called “Central Bark.” Host Theresa Stern and special guests will discuss how lives are changed every day through the special partnerships created between people, dogs, and communities at Guide Dogs for the Blind.

“Stay tuned. We’re just getting started!” says Christine.

Categories: GDB Community, GDB Youth Programs, O&M Immersion Program