The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (known as Guide Dogs) is a UK-based charity established in 1934. The training of Guide Dogs started three years earlier, in 1931. Guide Dogs provides independence and freedom to thousands of blind and partially-sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs and other mobility services. They also campaign for the rights of those with visual impairments, educate the public about eye health and invest millions of pounds in eye disease research.
Guide Dogs’ vision is for “a world in which all people who are blind and partially-sighted enjoy the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities as everyone else.”
Guide Dogs’ mission is “to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially-sighted people.”
Guide Dogs’ head office is based near Reading in Berkshire. They have four dog training schools in Redbridge, Leamington, Bolton and Forfar, as well as a breeding centre near Leamington, plus 28 district teams and many fundraising branches across the country. As well as its paid employees, Guide Dogs support a huge network of more than 10,000 volunteers, fundraisers and supporters around the country.
The guide dog service provides a partially-sighted or blind person with a guide dog as a second pair of eyes. These dogs start their life with a volunteer brood bitch holder, then move to the home of a volunteer puppy walker when six weeks old. After approximately a year the dog will move to a specialist trainer, where they train for around six months to gain the skills they need. This includes three to five weeks of intensive work with their new owner. The dog will have been matched very carefully with its prospective owner to ensure they suit each other. It does not end there; Guide Dogs is committed to providing support for the partnership and to the guide dog owner for as long as it is needed. After around six and a half years service, a guide dog is retired and is re-homed.
Guide Dogs is a world leader in the breeding and training of guide dogs. According to the Guide Dogs' website as of November 2007 there are around 4,700 working partnerships in the UK, and more than 1,000 puppies are born each year. It costs over £50 million per annum to fund and continue the work that Guide Dogs carries out. The guide dogs service receives no government funding and so the charity is completely reliant on voluntary donations.
The first British guide dogs completed their training in 1931, and three years after this the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was formed. This would not have been possible without the selfless work of Muriel Crook and Rosamund Bond. The first permanent trainer for Guide Dogs for the Blind was Captain Nikolai Liakhoff, who began in 1933, and the most influential figure in the development of Guide Dogs’ puppy walking and breeding programmes was the late Derek Freeman MBE.
Guide Dogs is the third largest funder of ophthalmic research in the UK and pays particular attention to educating young people about eye health.