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Coronavirus Response Update

September 16, 2020

As Guiding Eyes continues to navigate the pandemic, we wanted to give you an update on the exciting progress we have made in getting back to our mission – to provide guide dogs to people with vision loss. The health and safety of our staff, volunteers, dogs, students, and graduates is always our highest priority and we are committed to working with all of you to continue to build the best path forward.

Below you will find updates on each of our programs, from puppy raising to training placements and fieldwork. As you will see, we continue to work diligently in these different areas to communicate with our applicants, graduates, volunteers, and donors and we want to hear from you if you have any ideas on how we can further strengthen our plan.

Yorktown Campus/Training Center:

We are pleased to report that all the training dogs that were placed in temporary foster homes, when the pandemic caused us to shut down our Yorktown training center, have resumed training or been placed. There are approximately 100 dogs currently in training with Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMIs), a reduced number that allows us to keep staff physically distant from each other while resuming training. This reduced number allows for more one-on-one time for the dogs with staff.

To allow for even more space on our Yorktown Campus, we have started an exciting new volunteer program that allows for dogs in training to stay in volunteer homes and commute to campus for their daily training sessions. The Home Foster Program has been well received by our dogs, volunteers, and instructors as it allows our GDMIs to learn more about their dogs’ house manners and personalities outside of work.

Guide dogs in training require access to public settings, airports, train stations and other public facilities.

· Dog Training has resumed where it is safe

· Three Training Vans have been added to our fleet to allow GDMIs to transport their dogs without sharing vehicles with other staff.

· 15% of our training dogs are in the Home Foster Program we hope to grow this number in the months to come.

· In October we plan to bring in our first class of new recruits, 20 pups will come off the pup program and arrive in Yorktown. This will be the first new in for training (IFT) since March!

Patterson Campus/Canine Development Center:

Our dedicated Breeding and Whelping Kennel staff continue nurturing our pups from birth through eight weeks at our Canine Development Center to ensure they have the skills and confidence they need to progress through guide dog training. Guiding Eyes requires personal protective equipment and temperature checks for staff working on campus at our Canine Development Center. We currently have no volunteers on campus, and we look forward to their return.

· Our Whelping Kennel and Puppy Kennel have undergone major cleanings and have already welcomed back our first two litters of puppies.

· On Monday, August 31st, two pregnant broods were checked into our whelping kennel. After months with no puppies, we are back to breeding and whelping.

· We expect, barring any unforeseen circumstances, that will be back to full production beginning in January 2021.

· We have begun the breeding evaluations of future breeding stock. Maria Lazzaro has been busy placing these new breeders into homes.

· Soon our Home Litter Program and Home Socialization volunteers will be fast at work, providing loving homes for our puppies.

· The genetics staff is as busy now as pre-COVID19. The collection and analysis of data are constant within our program.

· We are evaluating our current socialization protocols to ensure consistency throughout our campus.

Veterinary Services:

The veterinary hospitals in Patterson and Yorktown are open in a modified format. The vet team has been energized by the reopening of our kennels and the opportunity to continue to provide day-to-day veterinary care for the amazing dogs that help us to fulfill our mission. We are hard at work performing examinations, surgeries, and dentistry with a focus on preparing for placement of healthy dogs with graduates.

· Each weekday we have staff members on-site and working from home on a rotational basis.

· Clients, fosters, and staff members concerns continue to be addressed with email, phone calls, or facetime consults whenever possible in order to conduct evaluations as safely as possible.

· As needed, in-person consults will continue to be provided in a touchless curbside manner.

· Curbside drop-off of laboratory samples and medication pick up (or mailing when possible) will continue.

· We are operational and are enjoying the return to performing routine procedures in compliance with NY State guidelines.


The Admissions team is happy to be working back on the Yorktown campus 3 days a week. We continue to work from home the other 2 days and are always reachable during work hours wherever we are located.

· We currently have 162 approved applicants waiting to receive a guide dog.

· We continue to accept new applications, process applications received, conduct pre-screen phone calls, and review completed applications.

· To maintain the safety of applicants and staff, the home interview will be conducted as a 2-part process: the first part of the home interview, primarily information sharing, will be conducted by phone; the second part of the home interview, the home visit, route observation, and filming may be conducted in a person’s home area maintaining social distancing guidelines with the help of technology and using PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) or with the help of a friend or family member videotaping independent travel using guidelines created by Guiding Eyes for the Blind training staff. This will be decided on a case-by-case basis with the Regional GDMI.

· All applicants are being considered for the Home Training program. The Residential training program is on pause for the foreseeable future. The Admissions team will be contacting approved applicants prior to a match/training to:

§ Assess the readiness of the student for Home Training

§ Determine the accessibility of travel routes

§ Review guidelines related to training and using PPE

· Our digital format forms are up and running! These forms include Permission to Videotape, Release of Liability, Publicity Release Form, and COVID Guidelines for Training. All forms have an e-signature option available.

· Our Nursing staff will also be contacting approved applicants prior to training for updated medical information, specific questions about COVID19, and COVID19 safety-related education.

· COVID19 safety-related education will be provided to Guiding Eyes for the Blind staff members. Topics covered will include social distancing, proper handwashing and hand sanitizing, and donning/removing PPE safely to avoid cross-contamination.

Our training staff is following NY State Travel Restriction Guidelines when considering where we can travel at this time

Student Instruction, Home Training:

Throughout the summer months, formal Student training resumed in incremental steps, considering the health and safety of students and staff. Our decision to train is based on CDC guidelines, NY State Travel Restriction Guidelines, and a safety assessment of the area we would be conducting the training by the GEB Nurse Manager and Training Team Management.

All guide dog team placements this summer were conducted as home trainings. We will continue to operate on a home training model until we feel it is safe to bring students back together safely through our residential general class program. Fourteen teams have started Home Trainings since our opening in June with many more on the way!

· GDMIs and Applicants, Students and Graduates use many strategies to keep physically distant when working together including:

§ Face Coverings and Instruction from a distance when possible

§ Use of video calling technology

§ Use of two-way headsets

§ Audio Described Video Instruction & Online Instructional library.

Graduate Follow-Up Services:

· We are continuing communications with our graduate community through phone and video calls. We have been conducting in-person follow-up services based on CDC guidelines and NY State Travel Restrictions. The Training Team has been actively contacting and working with our graduates helping with issues through phone conversations, video, and online mapping resources.

· Regional GDMIs located in Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Indiana, Connecticut, and New York continue to assist our graduates in person and from a distance using technology. They continue to resolve and work through graduate team questions effectively.

· We continue to work carefully to coordinate our home trainings, follow-up visits and dog transports to make the most of each trip.

· We are developing new strategies in our fieldwork that we expect will improve the services offered to Guiding Eyes graduates into the future.

Puppy Program:

· Please welcome Elizabeth Vacchiano, our newest Regional Manager. Liz brings her experience as a puppy raiser and service dog instructor to the Lower Westchester, Westchester, Dutchess, and Orange County regions and the whole Guiding Eyes Community.

· While the usual in-person Puppy Program classes are still on hold, the Puppy Program continues to support the development and progress of the pups’ skills using virtual classes and one-on-one support. We have been conducting individual in-person meetings per our safety guidelines. We are working with our nursing staff on guidelines for in-person small group classes and will resume them soon.

· Our waiting list of people who have offered to raise a puppy continues to grow and the next group of puppies will be ready for placement in late October/November.

· The training dogs that went back into raiser homes during COVID closures are all back in training or, in some cases, are already being placed! Getting back to placing dogs means we are also able to resume IFTs. The list of returning dogs for our October test is almost finalized and the letters will be going out soon.

· We want to thank our volunteers all for all the added support they have given the pups and all of us over the recent months as they prepare the dogs for the next phase of their journey. Please know how much the hard work you have done is appreciated; we could not do it without you.

Human Resources:

· We continue to communicate with our staff regarding compliance changes related to the pandemic and make adjustments, as necessary, to our protocols.

· Smaller group team meetings have continued with staff to provide the opportunity to share any concerns, questions, or suggestions.

· As a precautionary measure, staff are screened each day as they enter the work locations for a temperature check, COVID19 symptom questions as well as recent travel related to the NY State Travel restrictions list.


· Graduations are still on hold until further notice.

Guiding Eyes will continue to update this plan as needed as we move forward to carry out our mission. Thank you again for your patience and your ongoing support during these uncertain times. Please feel free to reach out should you have any questions or concerns.

July 23, 2020

Guiding Eyes cares deeply about our mission – to provide guide dogs to people with vision loss. As we navigate through the current public health crisis and move forward, the health and safety of our students and staff remain our highest priority.

Until the Residential Training Program is able to resume, our visually impaired applicants are being considered for Home Training. After assessing all aspects of the potential training, our Training Department establishes a plan which includes accessibility of travel routes, physical distancing details, PPE training, and availability within governmental guidelines and clearance in their local area.

We are pleased to present an overview video on how we have adjusted home training during COVID19:

May 25, 2020

Guiding Eyes is an organization that cares deeply about our mission—to provide guide dogs to people with vision loss.

After watching our Guiding Eyes family of volunteers, staff and supporters take on the difficult challenges of the past few months, I am confident we will find a way to get back to our mission as soon as it is safe to do so. The health and safety of our students and graduates is paramount and is still our highest priority.

It takes a community of hundreds of dedicated staff and volunteers working together to breed, raise, train and care for our puppies and dogs. Throughout this public health crisis, we are grateful to the many volunteers who provided a helping hand—by fostering our puppies and adult dogs or by a raiser welcoming a dog back into their home.

Our Whelping Kennel at the Canine Development Center, located in Patterson, New York, was deemed essential in compliance with the State of New York Executive Order and has remained operational throughout the pandemic. We would like to thank every member of the Kennel and Veterinary staff who reported to work to provide the best care for our broods, puppies and adult dogs in need of medical care or to help bring new puppies into this world.  We thank the staff on the front lines for caring for our dogs.

Our plan now is to begin to return slowly and appropriately to work in support of our mission, following best practices in staggered schedules, social distancing and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).  The timing will depend on guidance provided by federal, state, and local authorities.  Guiding Eyes will require appropriate personal protective equipment and temperature checks for all staff and volunteers working on campus at our Canine Development and Training Centers.

As part of our return-to-workplace plan, we have established several cross-departmental workgroups to address anticipated challenges, issues and concerns related to COVID19. These include a return to workplace safety group to address PPE and COVID19 awareness training and procedures, and a group to discuss opening satellite training centers to keep campus staffing density down while allowing for Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) staff to return to work.

We recognize protocols may vary by location and respect that our applicants, graduates, staff, and volunteers may have different comfort levels in providing support and accessing services. As we navigate these challenging times, we do not have all the answers, but we believe we have created a thoughtful plan with input from our community. Guiding Eyes stays committed to working with all of you to find the best path forward.

Below you will find updates on each of our programs, from puppy raising to training placements and field work.   We have been working diligently in these different areas to communicate with our applicants, graduates, volunteers, and donors.   We want to hear from you if you have any ideas on how we can strengthen our plan.

Campuses and Kennels:

We are prepared for a “soft opening” with some staff returning to the workplace on June 1st, adding to the 8% staff that have been coming to the workplace caring for our puppies and adult dogs throughout this entire period.  While all of us are eager to return to our life-changing work on-site, we will take a phase-in approach with less than 25% of the workforce returning on any given day.

Yorktown Campus/Training Center:

The current target date for re-opening the Guiding Eyes facilities in Yorktown Heights, NY, is June 15th, 2020.

Guide dogs in training require access to public settings, airports, train stations and other public facilities.   As such, we expect advanced skill-building will resume on June 15th with our ability to safely access such facilities as they open for business.  Training will resume in incremental steps, considering the health and safety of students and staff and compliance with local authorities.


Patterson Campus/Canine Development Center: 

Our dedicated Breeding and Whelping Kennel staff continue nurturing our pups from birth through six and a half weeks at our Canine Development Center to ensure they have the skills and confidence they need to progress through guide dog training. Guiding Eyes requires appropriate personal protective equipment and temperature checks for staff working on campus at our Canine Development Center. We currently have no volunteers on campus, and we look forward to their return.


Veterinary Services:  

Throughout this pandemic, the veterinary staff has reported to the work sites a minimum of twice weekly to continue to supply urgent care for many of our pregnant broods, studs, local foster dogs, puppies and by performing emergency C-sections when needed. Moving forward, we will continue to provide the excellent standard of veterinary care that we have always offered for our dogs in a modified fashion.

We will follow the lead of the Training department’s need to bring dogs onto our campus and will work together to meet their health-screening needs to prepare them for the day we are all so eagerly awaiting – placement with people who are blind and visually impaired in fulfillment of our mission.



We want to thank our returning graduates who are waiting for dogs and new applicants for their patience and understanding.


Graduate Follow-Up Services:

To ensure the continued success of our graduate teams, we have focused on these follow-up priorities:


Puppy Program:


Human Resources:

Communication to our staff is an on-going priority as we manage through this time together.



With staff, students and dogs not reporting to the Yorktown Campus, the maintenance team has used this time to improve campus life by implementing the following updates.


Guiding Eyes will continue to update this plan on a weekly basis as we move forward to carry out our mission.  For now, we thank you for your patience and your ongoing support during these uncertain times.  Please feel free to reach out should you have any questions or concerns.

April 9, 2020

‘New York on Paws’: Guiding Eyes for the Blind finds temporary homes for guide dogs in training – from AMNY

April 1, 2020

March 24, 2020

COVID-19 Update: Our Essential Work Continues

Dear Friend of Guiding Eyes for the Blind:

We think of Guiding Eyes as a family.  Our generous donors, hardworking volunteers and talented staff, together with our devoted, intelligent guide dogs, make it possible for people with vision loss to achieve greater independence and accomplish adventures big and small.

Our family, along with the rest of the world, is facing an unprecedented and unpredictable challenge due to COVID-19.  This is a trying time for all of us.  I wanted to take a moment to continue to update you on more of the steps we have taken to limit the spread of the virus, reduce risks for our students, puppies and guide dogs in training, and ensure that our essential work continues.

Our world is very different than before.  Our daily operations may change, but our commitment to our mission — bringing independence and mobility to people with vision loss — is unwavering.

Thank you for standing with us through these challenging times, and for being such an important part of our family.  We will move forward together.


Thomas A. Panek
President & CEO


March 24, 2020

Dear Guiding Eyes Community,

Greetings from the veterinary hospital. Here at Guiding Eyes, we are dedicated to providing the best possible care to our dogs from puppyhood through retirement. Even during these unsettling times, we want you to know that we are here for you and will continue to prioritize the health of our dogs while following CDC recommendations to protect our vet staff and the broader community.

You can always reach us as our team continues to work remotely to answer all of your calls and emails. Our after-hours emergency line operates the same way it always has, but please be aware that you might experience a slightly longer than normal hold time due to reduced staffing at our answering service. For routine inquiries, we are making every attempt to utilize your photos, descriptions and videos to help patients without physical contact. We are able to call in prescriptions to your local pharmacy or leave them out at one of our locations for you pick up when necessary. Although we are not holding regular hours being physically present in our veterinary hospitals, we will be able to come in to see dogs on an essential basis. We are orchestrating a plan to efficiently vaccinate local dogs and puppies while maintaining social distance, and will continue to come onsite to see pregnant broods who are sick. We will also be performing C-sections as needed and will tend to urgent patients in the whelping kennel.

We are here to support all of you as this situation evolves and welcome you to reach out so we may assist you to the best of our ability. Thank you for all that you do to make this organization function seamlessly regardless of the challenges and circumstances.

Wishing you all well,

Dr. Brenninkmeyer and the Veterinary Team


March 16, 2020

Due to COVID 19 planning and precautionary measures, all visitors, on-site tours and events have been suspended at this time.


March 13, 2020

At Guiding Eyes for the Blind, our number one priority is the health and safety of our staff, volunteers, graduates and dogs.  We appreciate the outpouring of support we are receiving on ways that you can help us navigate the Coronavirus situation.  The best way that you can assist Guiding Eyes for the Blind is to donate in support of our mission during this difficult time.  Here are the steps we are taking to support our graduates, volunteers and staff:

COVID-19 and Service Dogs

COVID 19 is affecting people from all walks of life in New York State, including pet owners and potentially those who utilize service animals.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend that people with COVID-19 should be advised to tell their public health point of contact that they have pets or other animals in their homes.

In addition to other prevention measures, people with COVID-19 who are identified by public health officials as requiring home care and isolation should be advised to limit interaction with pets and other animals. Specifically, while these people are symptomatic, they should maintain separation from pets as they would with other household members, and avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. 

The guidance from CDC states that service animals should be permitted to remain with their handlers. But what if that is not possible? Individuals who have the virus or are in an affected containment zone may face challenges such as relocation, pet care, pet food, pet medical needs and so on.

Reach out to the following services for transitions involving service dogs: 

Westchester County – Guide Dog School
Guiding Eyes for the Blind 611 Granite Springs Rd. Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Phone: 800-942-0149 Phone: 914-245-4024

General information regarding guide dogs: 

COVID-19 Update for Volunteers:

In keeping with the best possible practices regarding the Coronavirus, Guiding Eyes for the Blind remains consistent in monitoring daily news updates and makes any necessary changes to our protocol for the health and safety of staff, students, volunteers and visitors.

Protocol Update:

We value each of our volunteers and appreciate that each volunteer has a significant role contributing to our mission. Our goal is to provide a healthy environment for everyone to keep any virus or flu from spreading. 

COVID-19 Update for Graduates:

Temporary Modifications to Guiding Eyes for the Blind Student and Graduate Services due to the Coronavirus Pandemic 

In keeping with the best possible practices regarding the Coronavirus, Guiding Eyes for the Blind remains vigilant in monitoring daily news updates and will make all necessary changes to our protocol for the health and safety of staff, students, graduates, volunteers and visitors. Your safety and the care of our dogs are at the core of these decisions. 

Staff will not be traveling by air, visits requiring air travel will be postponed. Requests for assistance with work-related issues will be resolved through phone calls or video calls when possible, in the event the issue is a safety issue that is not able to be resolve in this manner we may need to recommend that you not work your dog until we are able to visit you.  

COVID-19 Update for Puppy Raisers:

To protect our students, some of whom are immune-compromised, we are limiting foot traffic at the Yorktown campus. As part of this effort, we are not going to have a public IFT or graduation for the month of March.  Attendance to both events will be limited to staff and a few local volunteers. 

We will get IFT test results and video to you as quickly as possible.  The graduation will be live-streamed as usual.  Please know we wish we didn’t have to make these changes and I understand how important these events are for you.  They are milestones in our dog’s lives and a great way to see all your hard work pay off.  Thank you for getting our dogs ready for both IFT and graduation.  Guiding Eyes has also decided to hold off on air travel for work for the time being, so some regions will be affected by this and we will address those regions. 

For those of you who are dropping off dogs over the weekend please try to keep the visit short and sweet.    

We will have staff available to get the dogs from your cars to make things easier. 

Local tip: FDR State Park is right around the corner if you want to have a nice walk with your dog before dropping off. 

For those that were planning to bring puppies back to your region on IFT Tuesday, we are working on travel arrangements for them.  Please check in with your RM regarding changes in the pick up and drop off schedules. 

Thank you for your understanding during this difficult time.