As a world leader in the guide dog industry, innovation is paramount to our culture at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Thanks to a significant multi-year pledge from Elizabeth A. Gard and Thomas J. Furlong, GDB has launched The Gard Furlong Canine Research Program.
This extraordinary support over four years will support a research and development program which will provide recommendations to improve the success and longevity of GDB program dogs and directly impact GDB’s strategic initiative of breeding fewer dogs while serving more clients.
Elizabeth and her husband Tom have supported GDB on many fronts for 12 years. They’ve volunteered as puppy raisers, attended fundraising events and graduations, helped fund the Residence Hall and new Puppy Center on GDB’s California campus, and recently named the Elizabeth A. Gard Courtyard outside the Center where visitors can gather and watch guide dog training taking place.
Elizabeth and Tom say they were impressed with GDB’s vision to develop a formal program to strategically target research initiatives to better support GDB’s constituents and the future of the guide dog industry worldwide.
GDB President and CEO Christine Benninger agrees that this new program will not only improve GDB’s operations and support the agency’s strategic initiative to increase the success rate of guide dogs, but the interdisciplinary scope will also provide relevant industry knowledge to support innovation and improved dog welfare worldwide.
Funding from The Gard Furlong gift will help GDB hire a Canine Research Manager to coordinate and manage research studies focusing on improving the health, well-being, and success of GDB dogs, through analysis of large data sets of canine genetics, breeding, behavior, and medical traits, to ensure reliability and sustainability of our client programs. It’s the first time GDB will have a person specifically allocated fully to a research-based role.
This year, The Gard Furlong Canine Research Program will launch an annual Canine Health and Longevity Survey to track medical trends and flag important genetic conditions. This is an important step to evaluating medical developments throughout the lifetime of GDB dogs. Initially, the survey will explore trends in our retired breeder dogs before expanding to all GDB populations, which will eventually include retired guides and career changed dogs. Information from the survey will help guide breeding and mate selection choices to increase the health and longevity of all GDB dogs. The Program will also formally establish benchmarks for reproductive excellence, develop a surveillance system to track success, and develop a robust theriogenology-focused summer externship for veterinary students through a formal partnership with UC Davis.
Elizabeth says she and Tom are proud to fund such meaningful research to help improve guide dogs’ lives and the lives of GDB’s clients who walk beside them. “We’re really excited to see the progress the program makes and how it improves the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired.”