September is National Guide Dog Month it is a celebration of the work of guide dogs in the United States and a way to raise awareness, appreciation and support for guide dog schools across the United States. It was established in 2008 as a fundraising drive to benefit non-profit guide dog organizations accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation.
In 2011, non-profit guide dog schools in the United States listed by IGDF were beneficiaries of donations received during National Guide Dog Month. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to several guide dog training facilities around the country including Sarasota based Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Guide Dogs, or Seeing Eye Dogs, are dogs specifically trained to assist a blind or visually impaired person in navigating through their world. They become that person’s “eyes”. The dog takes instructions from the human, but must watch out for obstacles and dangers in the path. They alert to steps and doors. They help find things – like doors and stairs and bathrooms and chairs. Guide dogs must be alert and vigilant in their job. Never reach out to pet a Guide Dog or interfere with their work.
National Guide Dog Month was first inspired by Dick Van Patten, who was impressed by the intelligence and training of guide dogs. During a visit to the campus of the Guide Dogs of the Desert in Palm Springs, California, Van Patten was blindfolded to experience how guide dogs provide assistance and mobility to blind people.
After learning that the costs to raise and train a guide dog exceed $40,000 and can take up to two years, Van Patten was inspired to help raise awareness and money for guide dog schools.
Mr Van Patten currently serves as an honorary Board Member for the Guide Dogs of the Desert. Through his pet food company Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance Pet Foods he has underwritten all costs for the promotion of National Guide Dog Month to ensure that all money raised would directly benefit non-profit, accredited guide dog schools in the United States.
In 2008, Van Patten enlisted the support of the Petco Foundation, to organize a fundraising campaign through their retail stores. The San Diego based retailer piloted the first guide dog fundraiser in the Southern California area to benefit the Guide Dogs of the Desert, based in Palm Springs, California. In 2009 National Guide Dog Month was established to benefit the non-profit guide dogs schools accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation.
In 2009, National Guide Dog Month was established for the month of May, however in 2010, it was moved to September due to conflicts with other national fundraising drives.
Most working Guide Dogs are bred by and born at an accredited Guide Dog school. As puppies they are usually placed with volunteer puppy raisers who keep them for about a year to a year and a half. It is the puppy raiser’s job to socialize the pup and teach us good house manners. We wear some kind of jacket or cape to identify us as pups in training and this allows us to go lots of places. After our time with our families we go back to our place of birth for work training. Ideally, after 6-8 months we get placed with a blind person and become their companion for the rest of our lives. It’s a lot of transition! Some dogs don’t handle all that moving around very well. Only about 50% of pups actually become working guides. And it’s been said that by that time, a guide dog is worth about $45,000.00! And the blind person doesn’t have to pay for his/her dog. It is a gift to them from the school.