As seen published in the November 2017 Visionary, the International Guide Dog Federation's monthly magazine.
By Jenna Bullis
2017 is Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc.’s 75th anniversary and we have very much enjoyed celebrating our organization and our community this year. We remain steadfast in our commitment to serving the global blindness community by helping clients from across North America and beyond and actively participating in the International Guide Dog Federation as assessors. We also greatly enjoy sharing our insights and knowledge with schools from around the world through visits to their sites and by hosting guests who are interested in learning about our approach to positive reinforcement, organizational best practices etc.
We are also extremely proud of our efforts to support the genetic diversity of guide dogs through exchanges of breeding stock, puppies, and more with schools both near and far. Interestingly, originally, most of our dogs came from animal shelters. But it soon became evident that we were looking for something very specific: dogs that not only had excellent health, intelligence, and temperament, but also exhibited a willingness to work and thrive on praise. So in an effort to ensure consistent production of dogs with desirable traits, we started our first specialized breeding program in the late 1940s.
In 1965 we received a very generous donation from Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Two yellow Labrador puppies, Guidewell Representative “Rep” and sister Guidewell Rally -- a gift that proved to have a tremendous impact for us since these two dogs matured into breeding stock and became the foundation of our current colony. Today, nearly every GDB Labrador working in the field is a descendent of one of these dogs.
This donation marked the very beginnings of a practice that would become very important for us in later years: collaborations with other schools.
In the early 1990’s GDB was invited to join the Original Collaborative Breeding group founded by Mr. Paul Keymer of the Minnesota Guide Dogs Breeding Center. Mr. Keymer proposed a collaborative partnership to six guide dog schools, who were responsible for breeding over 80% of guide dogs in use. GDB eagerly joined the “Original Group” along with Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, The Seeing Eye, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, KNGF, and Guide Dogs, Victoria. This collaboration has enhanced each school’s progress in reproductive practices, canine selection strategies and has ultimately improved the services provided for people with visual impairments. Because GDB operates the largest breeding colony in North America, international collaboration not only contributes to the genetic diversity of our own breeding colony, but also our reach and impact. Genetic diversity ensures that we have the highest quality dogs to partner with our students and that we put our teams in the best possible position to have long and successful partnerships. I directly benefited from this collaborative spirit in 2006 when GDB donated a fully trained German Shepherd guide to Guide Dogs Victoria(GDV).
In return, GDV offered to host Susan Armstrong, now our VP of Training and Operations, and I for a 3- month O&M training course. Developing personal relationships and directly experiencing operations at another school gave us both a much broader perspective on the guide dog industry and had a profound effect on both our careers.
Over the years GDB has enjoyed our many exchanges with Original Group members and a number of schools in Asia, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
We regularly donate puppies, germ plasma, and adult dogs around the world. These exchanges can also result in connecting people in fun and meaningful ways. For example, we recently received a brood from the Netherlands (KNGF) who we placed with a volunteer who emigrated from the Netherlands. She enjoys speaking Dutch to the dog and has even visited the puppy raisers on a recent trip to the Netherlands. On the occasions we donate an adult female dog, we do our best to ensure she is pregnant when we send her to her new home. This increases the impact of our donation by enabling the arrival of a litter of puppies immediately with additional litters to follow. We have also maximized our impact by sending frozen semen to multiple schools in Australia at the same time, saving on shipping costs and benefitting those schools with the combined shipment. While we live in a complicated world with many political and ideological differences, our international collaborations help us all rise above those differences. These collaborations are an essential part of GDB’s past, present, and future and a compelling part of being a part of the IGDF family.