Guiding Eyes’ global partnerships have spanned many years. When I first joined the staff in 1987, it was not uncommon to have students from Israel in a class. This is a rarity now, given that there is an International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) accredited guide dog school in Israel.
In 2003, we accepted our first student from Brazil, and her success generated more interest from other blind people, as this country has no guide dog school and people are desperate to enjoy the freedom and companionship a guide dog offers.
Applicants often learn about Guiding Eyes through the internet. These potential clients are mostly from countries where guide dog services do not exist. We decided early on that international clients would need to receive the same services available to graduates in the United States, such as home interviews, follow-ups and zone visits. However, as the interest from the international blind community grew, we recognized working in this manner put too much of a strain on our resources – both human and financial.
As a result, we stopped accepting international applications unless the graduates would be returning to an IGDF accredited guide dog school that could oversee the teams upon their arrival back home. This is the case for Portugal and Spain; both schools provide us with reports on the teams in their countries, and we stay in touch with these graduates regularly.
We were recently approached by the Hong Kong Guide Dog Association. The emerging guide dog school asked us to train four blind people through the 4Dogs4U project. They have done a tremendous amount of ground work, finding sponsors for dog food and veterinary care and guaranteeing required access laws are in place. The school will follow the graduates and their dogs for up to fourteen years and will provide regular reports on their progress. They are so excited that we are partnering with them on this effort and we welcomed our first two applicants for the July 2nd class!
We currently have 46 graduates living in Canada and 24 residing in other international locations. We are committed to the success of these teams, and we work hard to ensure that they are working well together and are destined for long and rewarding partnerships.