Guide Dogs of Texas Help Bring Freedom to Local Blind Residents

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June 27, 2017
Article originally featured in the Rivard Report by Sandy Merrill
 
Can you imagine losing your sight and trying to get to work by navigating bus routes, busy San Antonio roads, and obstacles on the sidewalks?
 
Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) enables blind people in our community to experience the freedom and efficacy of guide dog mobility. I’ve seen first-hand how lives are transformed, and our community is made stronger by pairing highly trained Guide Dogs with blind Texans who face daily and urgent needs for safe travel.
 
Guide Dogs of Texas is a 501(c)3 organization, celebrating our 28th anniversary of providing independence to blind Texans through the use of exceptionally trained guide dogs. We’re one of only 11 guide dog schools accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation in the nation and one of the only guide dog schools in Texas. Our campus is located in San Antonio, and our certified guide dog mobility instructors serve all of Texas. There are more than 600,000 people in Texas with a visual disability according to the National Federation of the Blind.
 
Here are some highlights of our process:
  1. GDTX is often the first point of contact when someone loses their sight. Our staff assists by connecting each applicant to low vision clubs, the Lighthouse for the Blind, and rehabilitation professionals including independent living specialists, low vision specialists, occupational rehabilitation specialists, orientation and mobility specialists, and more. By sharing how others have overcome obstacles, and information about Guide Dog mobility, we serve a critical niche in Texas.
  1. Once an applicant returns their application, a certified guide dog mobility instructor meets with the applicant to review their current mobility, goals, and to do an assessment of their mobility. If a guide dog could improve their mobility, and it meets their needs and the dog’s needs, they are accepted for training.
  1. Applicants and trained guide dogs are matched based on a myriad of details including gait, speed, route types, home, work, and family requirements, and more. Instructors train with the client and their new guide dog daily for four weeks to prepare them for every route, environment, and contingency.
  1. Every team in Texas is supported by our instructors with annual continuing education visits, and additional support when needed. If a guide dog isn’t suitable for the program, and doesn’t graduate, they are placed in suitable alternative careers or with loving families. All of our dogs are tracked from birth to death, and supported and/or re-homed when necessary.
  1. In order to have these critical guide dogs available, the guide dog training process includes a specialized breeding program, puppy raising, formal training with a guide dog mobility instructor, and then matching and training the blind applicant and guide dog together. It takes 2-2.5 years to prepare one of these special dogs. The applicant pays $1 for the guide dog, training, equipment, and life time of support.
  1. Part of the training process is a collaboration between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Dominguez Jail, and Guide Dogs of Texas. We’re the only program in world which has offenders raise puppies in the jail, and also enables them to train the dogs in the community under the supervision of a correctional officer. The Bureau of Criminal Justice reveals that about two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within three years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within five years. Participants in the PAWSitive Approach program, however, have less than 1% recidivism rates. In addition 75% of the puppies they raise graduate to be the “eyes” for a blind Texan.
It costs us $17/day to give the gift of canine sight to someone in our community. Guide Dogs of Texas receives no government grants, and relies entirely on support from our community. There are more than half a million Texans with visual impairments, and that number is growing.
More information can be found on our website at www.guidedogsoftexas.org or on our Facebook. You also can check out our video, or call our campus for a special tour at 210-366-4081.
Contact:
Sandra Merrill, President/CEO
(210) 366-4081 x4310