Is Your Child Ready for a Canine Buddy?

Aerial Gilbert and SplashMy name is Aerial Gilbert, I am the Outreach Manager at Guide Dogs for the Blind. I am also a graduate of the Guide Dogs program, working with my 6th Guide Dog, “Splash,” a female German shepherd.

I was on the planning committee for the NAPVI Family conference in Costa Mesa in July and presented at the conference and gave an overview of the Youth Outreach Opportunities at Guide Dogs. After the presentation I was asked to submit the information that I covered on this blog so that you would have access to these opportunities, and also be able to have a resource to ask your questions about guide dogs.

K9 Buddy Program

Currently we have 50 K9 Buddies residing with families that have a child who is blind or visually impaired. We believe that a dog can make a remarkable difference in any child’s life by fostering a sense of caring, companionship and a sense of responsibility through the human/animal bond. Our K9 Buddy Program matches specially selected dogs to become wonderful companions to visually impaired children and young adults. A dog can contribute to heightening of sensory development, motivating a child to learn and enhancing self esteem. The dogs come from Guide Dogs’ own colony, but are not qualified to work as mobility assistance dogs. K9 Buddies are offered free-of-charge, as are working Guide Dogs.

The K9 Buddy program connects the child/family with our community of puppy raisers and other supporters. This connection is as beneficial for our raisers and other constituents as it is for the child and their family. The program also connects the family with other services provided by agencies and organizations for the blind.

K9 Buddies are primarily placed in the eight Western states—the same territory in which we have puppies being raised and the staff to support these programs.

Is your child ready for a K9 Buddy?

  • The K9 Buddy program matches dogs with blind youth under 18 years of age who have been diagnosed by an ophthalmologist as legally blind or with a degenerative eye disease that will render them legally blind.

  • A K9 Buddy might be a good choice for a blind youth who exhibits the emotional stability and maturity needed to care for the dog (feeding, grooming, exercising) and will treat it humanely.

  • A good candidate would be one who has a personal interest in having a K9 Buddy dog.

  • The applicant and family agree to be the primary care providers for the dog and to monitor and encourage the applicant to actively participate in the care of the dog. The applicant’s home must have a secure backyard or dog run and be a safe environment for a dog.

The K9 Buddy Program differs from our Guide Dog Program in a few key ways:

  • K9 Buddies are not trained to assist with mobility. Therefore, children who have K9 Buddies and their buddy dogs are not granted access to public places (restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, hotels, public transportation, etc) with their dogs under the ADA.

  • Veterinary assistance and counseling services are provided only to active guide dog teams.

Families interested in applying for a K9 Buddy will be interviewed in their home to evaluate the environment as well as to determine the particular traits the family is looking for in a dog so an appropriate match can be made. After matching the family with a dog, the family will receive training and guidance from a Guide Dogs for the Blind staff member. Ownership of the K9 Buddy by the family will be granted after completion of the course of training. K9 Buddies are considered pets.

If you would like to find out more about the K9 Buddy Program and how to apply, please call the Outreach office at Guide Dogs for the Blind at 800-295-4050.

Camp GDB

Camp GDB is a 3-day camp for youth aged 14 to 17 who are legally blind. Campers will need to be able to care for their own activities of daily living. They will stay in our dormitory and share a room with another camper. Meals will be on campus and in the community. Camp GDB is free to qualified applicants, but families will need to provide transportation to our San Rafael campus.

Campers will explore the companionship, independence, and responsibility of the guide dog mobility lifestyle. They will receive hands on instruction with guide dogs with an emphasis on understanding the specific orientation and mobility skills that make for a successful guide dog user as well as the necessary fitness and endurance required for guide dog travel. They will have mentoring opportunities with successful guide dog users, including guide dog users who are other teens. Also, campers will learn about how our organization works and about the communities of support that enhance our programs. There will be plenty of opportunities for social activities and developing new friendships.