The journey from adorable puppy to working guide dog has many milestones – early socialization and training, the love, support, and attention of fantastic puppy raisers, and an experienced group of professional trainers all contribute to a guide dog’s path to success. But our pups wouldn’t grow up to become the exceptional guide dogs they are without a solid foundation of good genetics. That’s where Clover Williams steps in.
As the Reproduction and Cryogenics Manager at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Clover is responsible for managing the reproductive aspects of our breeding colony, as well as overseeing the screening process of potential broods and stud dogs. Clover’s days are spent hard at work in our lab, where she monitors heat cycles of the broods and performs in-depth semen analyses on the studs for optimum fertility. She also analyzes data to ensure that each brood is paired with the appropriate male to maximize the genetic potential for the resulting litter, for dogs sound in both temperament and long-term health.
The Guiding Eyes breeding and genetics program was established in 1966 and built upon best-in-class analysis of genetic data. Our organization was the first school in North America to build and maintain an in-house cryogenics lab, where we can freeze and store semen for future use. This, coupled with the cutting-edge camera-guided trans-cervical inseminations allow us to produce litters from dogs that are not currently in our colony.
Guiding Eyes bloodlines are highly sought after by international guide dog schools and, with our ability to freeze and ship semen, we are able to share those genes most efficiently. In fact, this international collaboration is what Clover loves most about her job.“We’ve shared our dogs or frozen semen with organizations on almost every continent. Meeting people from around the world and helping them improve their colony’s genetics is a rewarding part of my job,” Clover explains.
“It’s like watching the ripple effect of a pebble tossed in a lake. Guiding Eyes can strategically place a breeding dog at another organization. Over successive litters and the sharing of the resulting puppies with other organizations, that one dog can help so many. I get to see the lasting impact Guiding Eyes has not just here in the United States, but all over the world.”
For Clover, it wasn’t always about dogs. With a background in equine science and experience breeding horses during college and on her family’s farm in Vermont, she saw the opportunity to work at Guiding Eyes as a stepping stone in her equine career. But when she took the job, she immediately fell in love with the mission, and 15 years later, she can’t imagine her life without the dogs.
“I recently met with our Graduate Council. It was so exciting to hear them talk about how much independence their guide dogs give them and that they always return to Guiding Eyes because of the quality of our dogs. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to know that each guide dog’s story began in this reproductive lab. Guiding Eyes is an international leader in guide dog breeding because we always put the dogs first. We’re continuously making improvements so we can produce exceptional guide dogs for generations to come.”