Being able to provide highly trained guide dogs to the legally blind is the mission of Guiding Eyes For The Blind. If you’ve never heard of this organization before now, continue reading for some insight into the way it works.

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What Is Guiding Eyes for the Blind?

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a nonprofit organization that provides guide dogs for people who are legally blind. They are one of 11 schools in the United States accredited to do so. They ensure that they fully train every dog they place. Through their extensive breeding program and data tracking system, they have developed a method for being able to tell which puppies they breed are fit for guide training and the ones that are better suited for other jobs. The puppies that continue in Guiding Eyes for the Blind are fostered by loving families who help train and prepare them for their future role as a partner to a human in need.

How did it start?

Guiding Eyes for the Blind was founded in 1954 by Donald Kauth in a farmhouse in New York. He wanted to find and train animals to help blind people get around easier. In 1966, the organization evolved and began breeding its own dogs to find those with the temperament, health, and strength required to be in this line of work. Over 90 percent of the dogs bred at Guiding Eyes for the Blind are gentle Labrador Retrievers while 8 percent are German Shepherds. Both breeds are known for their willingness to work with and for humans.

What Makes the Ideal Guide Dog?

An essential part of any successful guide dog is the breed.

Certain bloodlines are more apt to exhibit the fundamental qualities indicative of future success in guiding. At Guiding Eyes for the Blind, they have amassed a significant amount of data over the last 15 years to assist in tracking the bloodlines that have been the most successful. They’ve done so in large part by keeping up with dogs they have bred and placed over the course of their life. Every two years, Guiding Eyes asks owners to take a survey assessing some specific and generic traits about the dog. When the survey is received back, they put the information into a database, which is made available to other service organizations. This data then helps Guiding Eyes for the Blind when it comes time for breeding by assisting them to pair certain dogs to achieve a litter of puppies that are more capable of guiding.

On average, Guiding Eyes is responsible for the birth of 490 puppies per year.

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With 490 Puppies Per Year

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While 365 remain within the organization for guiding training

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And 80 are sent to other organizations for training as a different type of service dog

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The final 45 puppies are adopted out to families as pets

Out of that number, 365 remain within the organization, which will train them for the important job of guiding. And they’ll send another 80 to other organizations for training as a different type of service dog. These 445 dogs have all demonstrated some inclination to possessing the required traits to serve humans in an official capacity. That leaves 45 puppies that do not seem to have those traits. These puppies are adopted out to families as pets. The waiting list to get one of these adoptable puppies is long. People spend, on average, about 12 to 18 months waiting for one to become available. The price for a puppy is also pretty steep at $2,000. However, due to genetic tracking and the database mentioned above, puppies bred at Guiding Eyes for the Blind have almost a 0 percent chance of having some of the most common medical conditions that can afflict dogs. Therefore, donating $2,000 to their cause and receiving one of the pups that weren’t quite right for service all but ensures a healthy, happy, well-mannered dog who may be more into cuddling than working.

What Are The Traits That Demonstrate A Good Fit For Service?

Everyone can understand and appreciate the amount of research, time, and effort that the staff, paid and volunteers, puts in to help ensure each puppy that goes through the program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind is going to be a successful aid to a future human partner. The humans who receive one of these dogs are heavily reliant on their skills and abilities, so without specific baseline indicators of success, the animals would not be able to be effective in a service or work capacity.

They observe the puppies behaviors and record them between four and eight weeks of age. At that point, the puppies are administered a special test that will help the staff know which puppies are ideal candidates for becoming a service dog.

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Some of the traits a puppy exhibits that make it a perfect candidate for entering the training program are:

  • How high or low is its energy
  • How fast it learns
  • How well it adapts to a changing environment
  • How it responds to noises and other distractive stimuli after repeated exposure
  • How often does the puppy prefer sniffing over paying attention to humans

Puppies that show an aptitude for being independent, energetic, and insistent on discovering things on their own and sniffing are sent to other organizations to be detection animals (i.e., police dogs).

Some pups who exhibit many or most of the desired traits but may not be served well for guiding for one reason or another are placed with a sister organization NEADS. They specialize in training service dogs for placement in homes with the deaf or those who have post-traumatic stress disorder or other disabilities that necessitate the help of a four-legged friend.

Puppies who would rather be cuddled and don’t adapt well to a changing environment or are unable learn to ignore outside stimuli are adopted out as excellent family pets.

How Does A Human Qualify?

Now that you know about the extensive process and great lengths Guiding Eyes for the Blind goes through to ensure they train and provide the best guide dogs to those in need, what about the humans? Guiding Eyes provides dogs to those who need them the most and those who qualify. To meet the general qualifications necessary for consideration a person must be:

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  • Over the age of 16 years old to enter training
  • A legal citizen of the United States, Puerto Rico, or Canada (International Guide Dog Federation handles international placement beyond that)
  • Certified legally blind by a medical doctor
  • Able to walk around outside regularly using only a cane for assistance
  • Has already been through orientation and mobility training program
  • Responsible and capable of caring for a dog for many years to come

The selection process can be lengthy, as is the waiting list. Even with 380 puppies being placed in the program yearly, Guiding Eyes for the Blind cannot make a match with every human who is in need.

Once a human partner has been selected, he or she must go through at least a month of training before ever being matched up with a canine partner. This is considered basic training for the humans and teaches things like commands and basic expectations for what the dog can do. When both the human and dog have finished their respective independent training, they are matched based on personality, environment, and need. The new partners then spend time training together, allowing the human to become accustomed to the dog, and permitting the two to start bonding.

How Can People Help?

Guiding Eyes for the Blind relies almost entirely on volunteers and donations to continue operating in the manner they do. Volunteers are involved in practically every facet of caring for the dogs from birth through graduation from the program. Volunteers spend time in the facilities caring for the dogs, socializing with them, and even taking them out and about for training exercises.

Puppy in arms

One of the most prominent volunteer positions is as a puppy raiser. In this position, a volunteer takes a puppy (or two) home after weaning for about 12 to 18 months. During this time, the volunteer must follow a schedule to get the puppy familiar with sounds, people, other animals, etc. Puppy raisers must agree to train and raise the puppies according to the Guiding Eyes methods and policies. The puppy also attends training classes on campus during this time, so the volunteer must be able to facilitate that. The skills learned in those sessions must be applied at home with the puppy raisers.

After the puppies are raised, they are sent to a training school where they receive the remainder of their education. They are then matched with a human partner who will work with them be sure they fit well together and that there are no issues.

If you can’t commit to being a puppy raiser or even volunteer in another capacity, you can also make a financial contribution to Guiding Eyes for the Blind so that they can keep doing the work they do.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Reputation and Rating

Non-profit oversight site Charity Navigator rates Guiding Eyes for the Blind with three out four stars. They base this rating on financial management score of 81.22 out 100 and an accountability and transparency score of 97.00 points out of 100.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s financial details

Tax-exempt organizations, nonexempt charitable trusts, and section 527 political organizations must file a Form 990 or 990EZ with the IRS.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s filed their most recent IRS Form 990 for 2017. We’ve extracted the following financial data from the organization’s most recent publicly available tax return for the fiscal year ending September 2017. This financial statement can give you a clearer picture of how well they use their resources.

Percentage of donations spent on services

  • Total donations and grants: $28,208,943
  • Spent on services and grants: $21,089,453
  • Percentage of donations toward grants and services: 74.76 percent

Percentage of revenue spent on fundraising

  • Total revenue: $30,783,919
  • Fundraising expenses: $4,088,331
  • Paid to professional fundraisers: $29,084
  • Percentage of total revenue spent on fundraising: 13.28 percent

Administrative and overhead costs

  • Overhead expenses: $1,514,422
  • Property assets: $20,754,236
  • Investment assets: $49,620,064
  • Paid to officers/directors: $1,406,840
  • Highest paid officer/director: CEO $320,756
  • Percentage of total revenue spent on officers/directors salaries: 4.57 percent

Money on hand

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a rare organization that provides a service to those in need. They have been successful in their mission thus far, and with some of the programs they are currently developing, it looks like they are only going to continue to get better and grow. Their mission is to eventually be able to provide a network of highly trained and functioning guide dogs throughout a network of like-organizations, to any visually impaired person in need, all for free. The commitment they have already demonstrated over the last 60 years should be enough to convince anyone that they are genuine in their mission.

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