Coronavirus Response Update
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.
- Our March class graduated early and went home with their dogs.
- Over a 3-day period in early Mach, 176 dogs were moved out of the Training Kennel into staff and volunteer foster homes.
- Many of our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMIs) took home up to three dogs and continued basic training and obedience with the dogs in their care. They also connected by phone and video appointments to help other staff and volunteer fosters with adjusting to having a young dog at home.
- Of the 176 dogs that were in the kennels and then moved into foster homes: 138 of these dogs had begun formal training, 20 were about to begin training, and the remaining 18 dogs are boarding guides or have been released from training for behavioral or medical issues.
- Released dogs continue to be actively placed through our Released Dog program.
- Of our dogs in training, 40 are within one month of completing their training, 14 of these dogs are pre-matched with a person who is blind and will need minimal training (1-2 weeks) before placement with the student is made. Twelve of these applicants live within driving distance of Guiding Eyes, eliminating the need for air travel.
- We will follow a detailed return-to-operations plan that covers the first 2 months back on campus once it is safe to resume operations. Initially, we plan to bring 6 of our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors and 18 dogs to campus, adjusting staff and dog numbers as it is safe and appropriate. Anticipated Schedule follows:
- Week of June 1 & June 8th
- Personal Protective Equipment distributed and Training for staff
- Soft opening of temporary Patterson Training Center to develop workflow and safety procedures.
- Schedule developed for staff and movement of dogs back to campus.
- Field Work & home trainings will begin case by case, requiring PPE training, PPE availability, graduate compliance and region safety.
- Week of June 1 & June 8th
- Week of June 15th
- 18 dogs will return to the Patterson campus with a drop-off schedule that extends across 2 days – appointments will be scheduled and communicated ahead of time.
- Veterinary check-ups will occur June 1 & 2
- Week of June 15th
- 6 GDMI staff will report to work on Patterson Campus to train 18 dogs, from the Breeding Kennel.
- Week of June 22 and beyond
- Evaluate staff and dog numbers based on feedback from staff; adjust as needed.
- Return to Yorktown Kennel when maintenance to Community Run is complete.
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.
- Twelve of our staff continue to work with our whelping broods and new litters at the Patterson campus, currently caring for thirty puppies and four broods.
- Lava was the last brood to whelp. She whelped on May 17th, and her puppies will enter the Puppy Program in early July.
- Our production staff has been working diligently on a return-to-breeding plan. The plan is inclusive of monitoring our breeding colony and upcoming heat cycles within the colony.
- We are preparing for the how and when to conduct evaluations on future breeding stock.
- Our dedicated Home Litter Care (HLC) volunteers are currently caring for 37 puppies and five broods in their homes.
- The home socialization program is active. We have volunteers available should the need arise to place any puppy temporarily. Currently, there are three puppies out in volunteer homes.
- The genetics staff is as busy now as pre-COVID19. The collection and analysis of data are constant within our program.
- We are preparing and looking forward to the arrival of the guide dogs in training from their foster homes so they can start up their training again. We have a plan to keep all staff safe with proper PPE equipment along with practicing social distancing.
- Although we will enter a time with no puppies on campus, the time will be used wisely. All our departments have worked on a list of maintenance items that will be completed before we resume normal operations.
- We are evaluating our current socialization protocols to ensure consistency throughout our campus.
- We have begun with a “soft opening” of our campus. Helen West, who conducts our puppy testing will be back on campus beginning the week of May 26th. We will reach out to other staff members to determine their comfort level about returning to campus. For the time being, there will be no shared office space.
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.
- Clients, fosters, and staff members will continue to be addressed with email, phone or facetime consults.
- As needed, consults will continue to be provided touchless and curbside; curbside drop-off of laboratory samples and medication pick up (or mailing when possible) will also continue.
- At this time, we have continued to pause all elective procedures to follow executive orders, help preserve PPE for human medical efforts and minimize the close interaction between staff members that many of these procedures require.
- Our return-to-workplace schedule will be focused on health screening of all dogs initially returning to the kennel, and then our intention is to address procedures and surgeries in order of urgency and in accordance with the New York State reopening plan.
- Because the staff health and safety are paramount to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, our entire vet staff will aim to work in cohorts to promote separation of vet staff members and ensure social distancing.
- Staff not physically reporting to the workplace will continue to play the ongoing vital role of supporting our graduates, raisers and fosters through telephone and email.
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.
- We currently have 120 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.
- Admissions staff is communicating with 255 applicants via phone calls and emails to provide updates about Guiding Eyes for the Blind during COVID19.
- Since April 1st, we have received 26 new applications from people new to Guiding Eyes as well as returning alumni.
- The Regional GDMI Instructors have worked on creative solutions to conduct home interviews. 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 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 determined on a case-by-case basis with the Regional GDMI.
- All applicants will be considered for Home Training until the Residential Training Program resumes operations. The admissions team will be contacting approved applicants at least 6-8 weeks prior to a match/training to:
- Access readiness of the student for Home Training.
- Confirm personal protective equipment training and availability for a staff member and the student.
- Establish a plan for training with physical distance between GDMI and student.
- Determine the accessibility of travel routes.
- Confirm the region where the training will be conducted has been cleared by CDC recommendations to be open.
- We have been working closely with our IT department to get all applicant/student forms into a digital format for ease of accessibility. These forms include Release of Liability, Publicity Release Form, and Permission to Videotape.
- The Admissions team will be contacting approved applicants at least 6-8 weeks prior to training to assess readiness for training under COVID19 conditions. The criteria being assessed will include information on geographic location and restrictions, willingness to wear PPE during training, and accessibility of travel routes.
- 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.
Graduate Follow-Up Services:
To ensure the continued success of our graduate teams, we have focused on these follow-up priorities:
- Increased communications with our graduate community through phone and video calls. The Training Team has been actively contacting and working with our graduates helping with issues through phone conversations, video, and online mapping resources.
- Since stay-at-home orders began, Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMIs) have made more than 800 phone calls, emails, and video calls to check in with or address issues and questions with our graduates.
- Regional GDMIs located in Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Indiana, Connecticut, and New York have developed innovative ways to assist from a distance using technology. They have been able to resolve and work through graduate team questions effectively in many situations.
- 16 graduates around the country are waiting for in-person assistance with specific challenges. Regional GDMIs are monitoring these individual situations and will offer in-person assistance as they are able to travel to the individual regions where graduates live, again factoring in CDC guidelines and local government recommendations.
- We will work to carefully coordinate our home trainings, follow up visits and dog transports to make the most of each trip.
- We will be providing in-person support services on a case-by-case basis when urgent issues arise that impact the safety of a working guide dog team
- We are developing new strategies in our field work that we expect will improve the services offered to Guiding Eyes graduates into the future.
- In-person Puppy Program classes are still on hold. Regional Managers are supplying virtual classes in all 38 regions and are available to supply one-on-one support via various teleconferencing technologies to allow our puppy program to support the development and progress of the pups’ skills. In-person support will begin on a case-by-case basis with safety guidelines in place.
- We are developing a waiting list of people who have offered to raise a puppy. This is great news! We are connecting with new, potential volunteers and with friends from the past who want to help and make sure every puppy has the best chance at becoming a guide dog.
Communication to our staff is an on-going priority as we manage through this time together.
- Weekly All-Staff Meetings – discuss updates based on government guidelines provided related to protocols and restrictions and how this relates to what Guiding Eyes for the Blind is doing. Shared work plans related to returning to the workplace and revised plans as they have changed. Some staff shared stories they experienced during this time personally and professionally, which have been very heartwarming.
- Communicate to staff compliance changes related to the pandemic and how leaves apply, resources available to all to talk through some challenges you may be managing through using the Employee Assistance Program.
- Coffee Chats – small group team meetings to check-in with staff to see how they are doing and provide the opportunity to share any concerns or questions.
- Protocols developed to provide a framework when returning to the workplace. Staff will complete Return to Workplace readiness survey, an acknowledgment form for temperature checks and a consent to notify us if they become COVID19 positive.
- Staff will be required to have their temperature checked as they enter the work location each day to provide a precautionary measure when entering the building.
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.
- Nursing Office – the Nursing Office has been moved to Dorm Room 8. The new office has access to the outside parking area which allows the nurses to perform temperature checks to all staff before entering the building and to meet the requirements of the return-to-work plan.
- Yorktown Kennel Community Run – The community run project started May 21, 2020, and includes the removal of 10,000 sq. ft of concrete flooring and the removal of five weather-protected canopies. The concrete floor demolition and replacement are expected to take approximately five to six weeks with a proposed completion date of June 26, 2020. The five replacement canopies are in the design phase and will be custom-built to meet the requirements of safety and comfort for our guide dogs in training. We expect the community run project with the new concrete floor and new canopies to be completed by mid- September 2020. The total cost of this project is approximately $360,000. We are extremely grateful to the George T. Walker Foundation who generously funded this project.
- Other Yorktown Campus Improvements – Paint: stairwells, several offices and parking lot lines and curbs. Renovate restrooms in administration wing. Power wash outside of buildings, fencing and walkways. Removal of diseased or dying trees hindering parking areas. Inspection, service and clean fleet vehicles.
- Patterson Campus Improvements – Paint: Female Kennel walls, pup kennel runs, Whelping Kennel Kitchen, x-pens and crates. Deep steam clean: Kennel facilities, hallway floors and Duraquartz floors. Various other projects including but not limited to, re-seed kennel yard area, replace sink in pup pavilion, flush drains in adult kennels and admit area, gate repair in Whelping Kennel and install outdoor pup door.
- Graduations have been put on hold until further notice.
- Guiding Eyes Golf Classic and the Pat W. Browne Memorial Blind Golf Tournament, originally scheduled for June 14 & 15, has been postponed. We are working toward possibly rescheduling for an alternate date later this year.
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
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.
- This past week, for the first time since our founding in 1954, we made the difficult decision to end training one week early so that our students and staff could return home. Fortunately, everyone made it back safely, in good health, with their new guide dog at their side. We are grateful for the help from our community of supporters, volunteers and training staff, working around the clock. Special thanks go out to our nurse in residence, Marianne, who cared for our students while they were living on campus.
- Our training staff is working to develop new ways to support our more than 1,000 working guide dog teams around the country. Our graduates rely on their guide dog to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or to independently exercise outside. We will be following up with our new teams to complete training and working with existing teams to address new challenges presented by COVID-19.
- Our latest task was to move as many of our guide dogs in training at our Yorktown Heights, NY campus temporarily into the homes of foster families, so that most of our staff can remain safely at home. Led by our veterinary team, we are taking every precaution possible to make sure every dog going home will receive the best of care. In mid-March, we had 225 dogs and puppies on campus, as well as pregnant dogs. In the past few days, over 175 have found a foster home – an amazing testimonial to our selfless puppy raisers, volunteers and staff!
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: https://www.nfb.org/resources/guide-dog-resources
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.
- Anyone with febrile illnesses and coughs must not come in for their volunteer shifts until their symptoms are checked by a doctor.
- Anyone who has just returned from business or personal travel whether from another country or within the United States, must not return to their volunteer shift for at least 14 days from their date of arrival.
- Avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
- Avoid handshakes
- Maintain frequent hand washing
- Observe “coughing/sneezing etiquette”
- If you have mild symptoms of a cold (mild coughing, sneezing, runny nose), we ask that you remain home.
- If you are uncomfortable coming in for your volunteer shift due to concerns regarding the coronavirus, or possibly exposing others in your family that may be vulnerable, please email or call me ( firstname.lastname@example.org or 845-230-6412) so that I can notify your supervisor.
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.
- Routine visits will be conducted remotely or postponed if the graduate does not live within driving distance of Field Rep.
- Home Interviews – Field Rep staff will explore virtual home interview options or postpone.
- Our March class students were sent home with their dogs early and will be receiving in-home training to finish their training.
- We are working with our April Class students to postpone their training to a later date exploring the option of home training when possible.
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.
- Please pull up in the main larger lot in the back and park in one of the spaces with orange cones.
- If nobody is outside ready to assist you, please call the kennel kitchen at 914-243-2219.
- You may not enter the kennel or the main building during your visit. If you have traveled internationally in the last 14 days, please let your RM know.
Local tip: FDR State Park is right around the corner if you want to have a nice walk with your dog before dropping off. https://parks.ny.gov/parks/148/details.aspx
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.