Irish guide dog owners were contacted by the organisation last week, informing us about a change in the structure of the organisation because of a reduction in funding. Some redundancies will have to be made, but we are assured that it won’t affect the services we receive as clients. I have my doubts, but that’s a whole other debate!
People on the mailing list reacted strongly to this news, and brought up some interesting points. The list, as well as conversations I’ve had with guide dog owners from other countries made me wonder how the organisations differ. Every guide dog organisation obviously has the same aims, which are to provide trained dogs to guide people who are blind or visually impaired. The way they carry out this training, how they are funded and what happens after dog and owner qualify can be quite different in different parts of the world. I’m going to explain briefly how the Irish organisation works, and maybe if people leave comments we can see how other places are similar or different.
Yes, I’m bored!
When you apply for a guide dog in Ireland, you are required to fill out a lot of paperwork and complete a medical exam. You will meet a trainer who will ask a lot of questions: They will want to know about your lifestyle, personality, how much mobility you currently have and how much work you will have for the dog. They look at physical aspects such as your height, weight, walking speed, tone of voice and ability to correct the dog and follow its commands. They use all this information to match you with a suitable dog when it is fully trained and qualified. You usually go to meet the dog a few weeks before training, and go for a walk to make sure you are both a good match, though I know this didn’t always happen in the past.
The training in the residential centre in Cork can last up to three weeks, depending on how smoothly things go and if you have had a dog before. Classes are usually made up of between two and eight people. These can be first-time guide dog owners, previous dog users or a combination of both. I think a small number of clients have trained only from home, but I presume it wasn’t with their first dog. After the residential training, dog and owner will return home, where the trainer will provide training in your local area. When this is complete, you should be visited by a trainer within the first six months, and then once a year for the rest of your dog’s working life. If problems occur in the meantime you can request more aftercare from a trainer.
Guide dog owners pay just 1 euro for their dog. They are technically still owned by the organisation. Boarding at the centre costs 10 euros a week, and you get some of the dog’s equipment, i.e lead collar and harness free. You can purchase beds, feeding bowls, toys etc from the centre if you want. I assume that the organisation keeps costs so low because owning a guide dog shouldn’t depend on whether you can afford it or not. A lot of people with sight loss are unemployed or in lower paid jobs than sighted people. They shouldn’t be denied a dog because of their income.
Most of the organisation’s funds come from fundraising, with a small per centage of funds given by the government. Guide dog owners are not obliged to fundraise, though most are happy to help out with this.
I’m just curious to know how it works in other areas. Are their parts of the Irish guide dog system that you don’t agree with? How do other organisations deal with financial problems? Is there an ideal way to run a guide dog training school?