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K9 Buddy Program Continues to Expand and Enrich Lives

Wednesday July 05, 2023

Jayna gets a kiss on the cheek from her K9 Buddy, Golden Retriever Kendo.

Guide Dogs for the Blind’s K9 Buddy program continues to expand, evolve, and enrich lives. The program matches specially selected dogs to become companions and pets to people who are blind or visually impaired. Launched in 2004, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) first provided K9 Buddies to children and their families living in the western United States. The K9 Buddy program has expanded to serve people of all ages throughout the U.S. and will expand to Canada later this year. In fiscal year 2023, the K9 Buddy program partnered 27 teams in nine states including: Maine, Illinois, Idaho, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and California.

“We believe that a dog can make a remarkable difference in any person’s life by fostering a sense of caring, companionship, and responsibility through the human/animal bond,” says K9 Buddy Program Manager Kelsey Gilbert. “This ongoing expansion enables us to be more inclusive and serve more individuals with visual impairments.”

Jayna Navarro was paired with her Golden Retriever K9 Buddy four years ago. “There is so much I could say about Kendo. The second I met him I knew we were going to be best friends. His warm smile and cuddly personality always make my day. We are inseparable and he’s had such an amazing impact on my life. I love him so much.”

K9 Buddies are provided free of charge, and clients are eligible for GDB’s Veterinary Financial Assistance program to support the ongoing health of the dog throughout their lifetime.

“In our effort to serve more broadly within the community of visual impairment guides, breeders, and K9 buddies are all success paths that contribute to our mission,” says Kelsey. She says dogs are recommended to the K9 Buddy program after it is determined they are not suited to continue in their current program (Breeding or Training), but before they are career-changed. Dogs that are not selected to continue in the K9 Buddy program are released from GDB’s programs and may be eligible for Community Placement consideration.

The K9 Buddy program serves children and adults who are new to the GDB community and former guide dog users who have experienced a change in lifestyle or travel needs. And K9 Buddy teams have been integrated into GDB’s graduation ceremonies to acknowledge each new partnership and recognize the puppy raiser’s efforts toward the dog’s successful path. Recent partnerships include:

Steve Kelley and K9 Buddy Rosalita. Steve lives in Maine, holds an M.A. in Rehabilitation Counseling and is a Certified Vision Rehab Therapist. He also hosts a vision rehab podcast and has a small hobby farm.Rachelle Maxon and K9 Buddy Beethoven. Rachelle is a college student in Oregon who loves to hike and be active outdoors.

Likezo and K9 Buddy Tartine. Likezo and his younger sister were thrilled to welcome their new friend and playmate to their northern California home!

In FY23, GDB received 119 K9 Buddy applications – three times the number in FY22. To keep up with demand, Kelsey recently hired a K9 Buddy Specialist to assist with the program’s growing needs. “We are thrilled to welcome a new staff member to the K9 Buddy team and look forward to partnering more K9 Buddies and supporting those teams in the years to come.”

Visit our K9 Buddy Program page to learn more about these life-changing partnerships.