Q&A With Guide Dogs of Texas
In honor of International Guide Dog Day (April 29th), we sat down with the team at Guide Dogs of Texas, to learn a little more about the great work they do. Healthy Pet: So, what do y'all do at Guide Dogs of Texas? Guide Dogs of Texas: Here at Guide Dogs of Texas, we provide quality guide dogs to Texans who are visually impaired to improve their freedom, mobility, and independence. We are committed to personalized service and lifelong dedication to our clients and their dogs. HP: That's super cool! It sounds like it would be expensive for visually impaired people to afford such a dog! GDOT: You would think so because of all the training, but actually we are a non-profit that provides the dog, training, and support services to our clients for just $1. We rely on individual support and corporate support, but we do not receive any government money. HP: Wow! Are there a lot of other programs like yours? GDOT: Actually, we are the only Guide Dog School in the state of Texas. We are proud of our services and our dogs. We like to think we have “The Best Dogs in Sight!” HP: How long does it take to prepare a guide dog? GDOT: It's a three-stage process that takes an average of 2 years to complete. We begin a dog's training at birth with specialized development exercises. They go to their volunteer Puppy Raisers at 8 weeks where they learn basic obedience and gain exposure and socialization. Between 1 and 2 years old, dogs come into Advanced Training where they learn the formal guide work. Around 2 and a half years old, the dog will be matched with a visually impaired client, and the new team will go through class where they will learn to work with each other. Upon completion of class, they will graduate as a working Guide Dog Team. HP: That sounds intense. We have a thing for Frenchies around the store, but I am not sure they'd make good guide dogs. What are the most common breeds for guide dogs? GDOT: Frenchies are wonderful! But, you're right, we don't use them as guides. In general Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and crosses between Labrador and Golden Retrievers are the most common guide dogs. At Guide Dogs of Texas, we currently use Labrador Retrievers and have one Golden Retriever female who we hope to breed to start a new line of Golden Retrievers along with crosses of Labrador and Golden Retriever. HP: What happens when a guide dog goes into retirement or gets sick? GDOT: When a dog reaches retirement age, or retires early due to work or medical reasons, the client, if able to, has the option to adopt their guide dog. If the client is unable to do so, they can refer friends or family to apply to rehome the retiring dog, or the client can return the dog to the school and allow us to find a home from our database of amazing families and individuals waiting for one of our released or retired dogs. HP: Can you tell us a little bit about your Pawsitive Approach program? GDOT: Absolutely! I think it's one of the coolest things we do. Guide Dogs of Texas relies on the PAWSitive Approach Program for supplementing its puppy raising process. The PAWSitive Approach Program is a highly successful collaboration between our organization and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and with the Wardens of the Fabian Dale Dominguez Jail in western Bexar County and the Travis County Sheriff’s Department in Austin, Texas. Non-violent Offenders, who are carefully screened, are entrusted with the first stages of training, which include house breaking, grooming, basic obedience, socialization, and familiarization with all the environments that the dogs will be required to work in, later in life. To date there have been over 100 offenders to complete the full program of raising a puppy. HP: So, if people want to get involved, how can they? What kind of volunteer opportunities are available throughout your organization? GDOT: We have plenty of volunteer opportunities like Kennel Assisting, Administrative Support, Event Staff, Puppy Raising, Puppy Sitting a Guide Dog in Training, Boarding a Guide Dog in Advanced Training, Brood and Stud Holders, Puppy Development Assisting and so much more. Check out our website to get all the details.