GDB's Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
This page addresses the steps and precautions Guide Dogs for the Blind is taking during the coronavirus pandemic. It will be updated and date stamped as new and/or changing information becomes available.
Special resources for alumni are available under the Pandemic Resources section on our Alumni Resources page.
Have questions? Please call our support center at 800.295.4050. The support center remains open 8am-5pm PST Monday through Friday.
While California is removing the bulk of its pandemic restrictions on June 15th, Guide Dogs for the Blind is continuing to lead with care and follow our existing protocols. We are targeting July 1st, the beginning of our new fiscal year, as the return to full operations. This may not equal the “pre-pandemic” way of operating, but this will be marked by a return to standard class sizes, more volunteers returning to campus, and increased travel by members of various departments, among other things. While we will not be opening campuses to the general public at this time, there will likely be an increase in small groups of planned, escorted guests on site. The GDB Operations Team will be working on the plans for making all of these important evolutions possible. Work within individual departments may result in adjustments to certain protocols as well as staff and volunteer schedules and our Directors and Managers will ensure everyone stays informed.
Operational Updates: From Breeding To Serving Clients
When shelter in place started, all breeding was paused for 2 months (end of March, all April and 1st part of May). And, with breeding planned months in advance, the Puppy Center on our California Campus was still home to 170 moms, babies and older puppies. The births continued through the beginning of May resulting in mom and puppy care required through the end of June. And, with the breeding pause, in July there were no moms or puppies on campus enabling the Canine Welfare Neonatal team to focus on creating additional safety protocols and further developing the new Puppy Center. At the end of May, we began breeding 4 litters/month and have welcomed 27 new litters to date. With recalls starting back up, we are excited to ramp up breeding numbers in May to pre-COVID levels in order to provide dogs to match with clients at the end of FY22 and all of FY23.
GDB is committed to giving every dog in our program the best chance to succeed and we want to honor the significant investment our puppy raisers have made in loving, socializing, and developing our dogs, especially during this unparalleled time. Because our operations have been significantly impacted, this has meant the puppy raisers have kept guide dog puppies in their homes for a longer period of time and extended their efforts to prepare each dog for service. Our dogs are typically between 15-18 months when they are recalled and enter training. Due to the limitations on our ability to operate during the pandemic, however, the average age of dogs currently coming in for recall is now closer to 22-26 months. As such, there will be a period where dogs may be up to three years old when issued as guides. During this time, we will be recalling the oldest dogs first and anticipate a return to a recall age of 15-18 months by the end of the calendar year.
GDB is a large, complex organization and we are excited that our operations are starting to return to pre-COVID levels. This means a return to many of the processes that help create a stable foundation for serving clients. The following are some of the exciting elements of returning to full operations:
- Regularly scheduled recalls at both campuses
- A standard dog training schedule and dogs normally moving through the training cycle including the completion of Phase Reports
- Regularly scheduled back-to-back classes with smaller numbers of clients in each class
- Staggered class schedules between the two campuses which facilitates smoother recall coordination
- A higher number of in-homes occurring throughout the United States, which will be overseen by instructional staff and Field Service Managers. These in-homes will occur in areas of the country that are within driving distance of our FSMs.
- A virtual meet and greet between the client and their guide’s puppy raisers via Zoom as the team concludes their training.
These efforts are intended to help us meet our goal of serving the same number of clients we usually serve in the second half of the year.
Orientation and Mobility Immersion classes will also continue on campus and in surrounding communities. We are currently limited in our capacity to serve OMI clients now because our O&M partner agencies are still not fully operating. However, we are excited to be training as many clients as we can internally and expect our O&M partners to be back to full operations shortly.
We are thrilled to return to a level of operations that is closer to normal using all the creative innovations and learnings that have been developed over the past 11 months.
Bringing Back Volunteers
To support efforts to move our mission forward as described above, we will be bringing back a limited number of volunteers to the Oregon and California campuses in the coming weeks. Jennifer Bernstein, Volunteer Engagement Manager, has been working with all staff who are responsible for volunteers and they have determined which volunteers are needed on campus first. Those volunteers will be included in all GDB safety protocols including COVID testing every two weeks.
We are continuing operations, while our campuses remain closed to the public. We are serving guide dog clients and Orientation & Mobility Immersion clients via in-home and on-campus training. Classes are small and employ extensive safety protocols. We are also continuing to serve K9 Buddy clients.
Please follow us on social media to see additional updates along with inspiring stories about our community.
Hear from Ginny Prince, who was a member of GDB's first in-residence class on the California campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about some of the training innovations that GDB has put in place on our blog now.
We want to offer our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of our staff and our community for helping move our mission forward despite challenging times!
Our staff is truly leading with care by following our safety protocols and sharing responsibility for keeping everyone safe and well. As to be expected, we have had employees who have felt symptomatic or have been recommended for testing. The good news is that, to date, no one has tested positive. We are truly thankful to staff for taking GDB’s guidelines seriously and for taking such good care of themselves and others!
All of the dogs have returned to the Oregon campus and campus operations will continue as they were prior to the fires. We cannot thank our volunteers enough for opening their homes and hearts in order to help care for our dogs.
Client training continues! We are serving a number of clients within range of our campuses with in-home orientation and mobility immersion training and guide dog training and will continue to do so. We are also very excited that our first in-residence orientation and mobility immersion class is starting this weekend on the CA Campus. We are very optimistic that guide dog team training will commence on both campuses in October.
Thank you for all that you do to make Guide Dogs for the Blind great!
In July, we entered Stage One of GDB's Return to Full Mission. Staff and dogs began returning to campus in preparation for resuming dog training. Our team has demonstrated creativity, flexibility, and innovation in adapting training and instruction techniques as necessary to comply with recommended Coronavirus preventive measures. All adaptations have been made while upholding the highest guide work standards. In addition to dog training, our team has been working diligently to fine-tune safety-related protocols necessary to resume direct client training. We are utilizing mock instruction exercises and client focus groups to ensure that these protocols successfully translate from theoretical practice to practical, hands-on application.
GDB will initially be implementing a 1:1 instructor to client ratio during guide dog team training. This will facilitate smaller class sizes for residential trainings and minimize risks associated with larger gatherings. We also anticipate conducting a greater number of in-home trainings than in previous years in order to provide individualized, high-quality training experiences for our clients. Initially, we will be approaching this within a reasonable driving radius of our campuses or Field Service Managers.
We are also beginning to serve clients through our Orientation and Mobility Immersion Program. Initially, our efforts will include in-home trainings for clients within a reasonable driving radius of Guide Dogs for the Blind headquarters in San Rafael, CA. Instructional methods that allow for compliance with recommended physical distancing guidelines will be utilized and training will only be provided outdoors.
GDB staff continues its expert and caring support of our puppy raisers as clubs continue to conduct their meetings virtually. When necessary and with all due caution, staff has also begun going into the field to provide in-person support to our pups on their journey to guide.
We continue to engage our campus volunteers remotely providing information and new ways of supporting the mission from home. Our team has focused on maintaining a sense of community and rapport with our campus volunteers, keeping them informed and engaged through a variety of activities and communications. We look forward to the time when we can be together again, most likely in Stage Three.
Some additional Stage One Updates:
Throughout the pandemic, GDB has provided ongoing support services to our clients while ensuring the safety of our staff, volunteers, puppies, and dogs. Costs of providing our services due to COVID-19 have risen substantially. We need your support now more than ever, please visit https://www.guidedogs.com/support .
We hope you’ll join us for our first ever Virtual Holiday Event taking place on December 6. This event is free and all are welcome! You can learn more by visiting https://www.guidedogs.com/events.
We appreciate the continued understanding, patience, and support we have received from our community as we work together to move our mission forward. Thank you.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is excited to begin returning to full mission now that shelter in place mandates are lifting and businesses are restarting their operations. As we return, our values and our respect for one another will continue to guide our way forward. We are stronger together and if ever there was time to create a community where everyone feels included, respected, and safe, it is now. The health and safety of our entire community including our staff, clients, volunteers, and dogs is of paramount importance to GDB. As such, our efforts to return to full mission will take place in a series of three, thoughtful stages.
The first of these stages will begin the final week of June. In Stage One, campuses will reopen to employees and those in the field will begin work within the community based on conditions in their specific area. Detailed protocols will be implemented on our campuses and in the field to ensure the health and safety of staff and GDB community members. Employees who are able to work remotely from home will continue to do so. We anticipate that campus volunteers will be brought back to campus during Stage 3.
Some additional details regarding Stage One:
Camp GDB will be held virtually in early July; please note the session is full.
We expect that client training will resume mid-to-late summer.
The veterinary clinics will be open and providing concierge/curbside service with social distancing measures. During Stage One, appointment availability will be limited.
Public tours and graduations are canceled/postponed until further notice.
While the gift shops on each campus remain closed; our online store is open for business! And, of course, if you are interested in supporting us with a donation as we re-open you may do so at guidedogs.com/donate or by calling 800.295.4050.
Thank you for your continued support of our life-changing mission. More information on GDB Stages Two and Three will be provided in the future.
Camp GDB 2020 is going virtual! The health and well-being of our campers and staff is our first priority. Therefore, we have made the difficult decision to move from our traditional summer camp experience to a virtual one for those who have already been accepted into the 2020 Camp GDB program. Visit our Camp GDB page to learn more.
As you may know, GDB is taking steps to minimize the number of people on our campuses in order to reduce the risk for illness as well as honor shelter-in-place orders that are now in effect for both California and Oregon. To facilitate this effort, we are taking measures to lower the number of dogs on each of our campuses. This past weekend, we began moving dogs into the homes of GDB community members who are experienced caregivers, namely staff, puppy raisers, and current foster care providers. Our goal is to ensure that our dogs continue to receive excellent care. The health and safety of our people, dogs, and community are very important to us!
We are so grateful to everyone who has helped us take this important step, has offered to foster dogs, and/or continued to support us in other ways. Please note we are not seeking new foster care providers or puppy raisers to assist in caring for our dogs at this time.
In an effort to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 to our clients, staff, volunteers, and community members, we have suspended class training on our California and Oregon campuses, and all tours continue to be cancelled.
We are now minimizing the number of staff and volunteers on campus, while ensuring that our dogs continue to receive the best care possible and that our people remain healthy and safe. We are exploring and enacting creative ways to keep our operations and life-changing mission moving forward.
At this time, our gift shops are closed. This includes both of our campus stores, as well as our online store. Thank you for your understanding.
Our online Gift Shop is open for business 24/7. Our campus gift shops are currently closed, and online order pickups at our California campus are currently unavailable.
Guide Dogs for the Blind is committed to the health and wellness of our staff, clients, volunteers and guests. With that in mind, we are implementing initial safety precautions regarding the coronavirus and are limiting visitors to our facilities. At this time, we are cancelling all tours and graduations at both of our campuses. We we will continue to monitor our need for this restriction and adjust accordingly. Thank you for your understanding, and please continue to check our website for the latest developments.