San Francisco celebrates the holidays by putting on the dog – Guide Dog, that is. Each year Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., a national non-profit organization, hosts its Festive Holiday Luncheon at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square. Lucky guests are treated to a demonstration of guide work as Guide Dog instructors, in dress tails, and their canine partners work around decorated obstacles on a fashion show ramp. The Guide Dogs, also dressed in tails (their own!), are beautiful Labrador Retrievers; Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Lab/Golden crosses. But the best part of the show, by anyone’s estimation, is when the puppies are brought out – loads of them!
The organization was founded in 1942 to assist servicemen who were blinded in World War II. It now provides skilled mobility dogs and training free of charge to blind men and women throughout the United States and Canada. Services include: transportation to and from campus, room and board for the 26 days of training, the guide dog, required equipment, extensive support services and yearly veterinary stipends for the life of the dog.
Deborah Willard spent seventeen years using a can as her guide. After adopting a dog with the assistance of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Deborah declares that she will never again be without one. Morgan Watkins, another indebted graduate of GDB stresses the importance of compensating for his lost abilities and not for his vision loss. “When the focus remains on the ease with which my dog and I move,” Morgan says, “it is good for me as a person and as a professional.”
Rediscovery is the key, according to Guide Dog staff. The canine angels they train breathe new life into their two-legged friends, giving them a newfound confidence and sense of freedom.
Vision loss is among the 10 leading disabilities in the United States, and Guide Dogs is reaching out to make its free services known. Applicants must be at least 16 years old, legally blind, able to travel independently, in need of a dog for mobility, and able to care for the dog they are given. Guide Dogs receives no government funding and exists solely through the generosity of private donors.