Guide dogs (also called assistance dogs or seeing eye dogs) are not a new phenomenon.
A popular verse alphabet of the mid 16th-century began “A is for Archer, B is for Blind man led by dog”. In the 19th-century novel Aurora Leighby Elizabeth Barrett Browning begins “The man walks wherever the dog pulls / And so I answered”
The history of Irish Guide Dogs for the blind
The Irish Guide Dogs for the blind is a more recent development! Thenon profit organisation was established in 1976 by Mrs Mary Dunlop and Jim Dennehy. Prior to this Mrs Dunlop had taken part in fundraising to facilitate people in Ireland with a visual impairment travelling to the United Kingdom for guide dog training (the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded in 1934 in the UK).
For 40 years, the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind have supported people who are blind or who are visually impaired. In more recent times, they have assisted families of children with autism, providing assistance dogs which offer afford autistic children companionship and greater independence.
This charity performs a critical service. The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) offers support and services nationally to people with eyesight problems. Of over 15,000 members, 5% (750 people, are completely blind). With Ireland’s ageing population, these figures are set to increase.
The benefits of a guide dog
- Guide Dogs help their owners travel around more independently and more safely
- Guide Dogs make navigating streets much easier. For example, they assist their owners in avoiding obstacles, crossing roads safely and reaching their destination.
- Guide Dogs make it easier for the person who is blind or vision impaired to use public transport
- Guide Dogs provide companionship
- Guide dogs affords visually impaired people greater work opportunities.
- Guide dogs can improve the health and fitness of their owner and encourage a more active social life.
What breeds are used for Guide Dogs
Guide dogs typically need a number of qualities to make them suitable.
- Willingness to please
- Have initiative
- Is bright
- Can learn / be trained
- Complete obstacle work
Several dog breeds are suitable to become guide dogs. These include:
- Golden Retriever
- Golden Doodle (Golden Retriever crossed with a Poodle)
- German Shepherd
- Labradoodle (Labrador crossed with a Poodle)
- Labrador crossed with a Golden Retriever
- Shepherd crossed with a Golden Retriever
Assistance Dog Programme for families of Children with Autism
In 2005, the Assistance Dog Programme for families of Children with Autism was established. Following application, a 3-day workshop and a visit to the family home is carried out as part of the assessment to determine eligibility. This has proven to be an high demand service (applications for this year are currently closed).
Dog’s that don’t make it / Retired guide dogs
On occasion, dogs are removed from training and this can be for a variety of reasons such as health or behavioural and the charity look to re home them. Also, dogs that have completed their service (typically 9 to 11 years) are offered for rehoming. These types of dogs do not suit everybody and an eligibility criteria needs to be met
They need your support
It costs circa €38,000 to train a guide dog and over 4M per year to run the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind in Ireland. They rely on donations, of which 80% of their income comes from. There are several ways they can be supported such as donations, fund raising, volunteering and corporate fundraising.
If you are interested in supporting this worthwhile cause you can find out more on their website or by phoning 1850 506 300.