Why did I choose Guide Dogs for the Blind? There are several reasons but BOTH schools are amazing schools. Guide Dogs for the Blind and The Seeing Eye are two of the best guide dog schools in the world. Guide Dogs for the Blind has campuses in Oregon and California, with California being their headquarters and main campus. The Seeing Eye has their campus in New Jersey.
Most everybody that I know that has a Guide Dog got their dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Two or three people I know got their Guide Dog from The Seeing Eye. Want to know an interesting fact? You can only properly identify a dog for the visually impaired as a “seeing eye dog” if it graduated from The Seeing Eye. All the other dogs are “Guide dogs.” Interesting, right? A lot of people use these terms interchangeably. So, back to what I was saying.. I have personally been able to talk to so many people, who I trust, about their experience at Guide Dogs for the Blind and I could see the partnerships that resulted from that. I really liked what I saw. One person cautioned me to learn more about why the program was only two weeks now because when she went it was four weeks. Well, I figured that out.
Guide Dogs for the Blind’s program is 2 weeks. It used to be 4. The Seeing Eye’s program is 4 weeks. The way that Guide Dogs for the Blind was able to reduce their program was by sending you all the lecture material ahead of time.. and let me tell you it’s a lot, but not unmanageable. Then, while you’re at the school you spend less time in lectures and more time out training and working with your dog. They still do have discussions but its a lot less time consuming than having to give the full lecture. They did this in a pilot program before they fully implemented it and found they are very successful. But because a friend cautioned me to figure out about the 2 weeks, I was still a little hesitant. That’s when I contacted a friend of mine, Sabra, who is blind and very active in the blind community. She gave me the name of a sweet gal named Jillian, who is a college student, and went in November to get her guide dog. Well, she ended up helping me out tremendously. Jillian helped me figure out how it’s like to be a college student with a guide dog, told me the 2 weeks was just fine, and gave me more insight into the program and any obstacles she has faced with her guide dog. I also get to read her Facebook status’ which are often about her guide dog so that’s very neat. I now feel that the two week program will be best for me.
Four weeks just seems like too long to be away. I am very much a family and friend person and to be 4 weeks away from all my family and friends here just doesn’t seem like it would be good for my mental health. Also, after my Dad passed, I just don’t think that I want to be away from my support for 4 weeks. I feel that I can easily do 2 weeks but four weeks is just not something I think I want to do. So, that was the primary reason I didn’t choose The Seeing Eye.
The Seeing Eye’s students are mostly blind. When I was talking to them about applying, they said they would like me to have 10 degrees or less ideally but they do evaluate it on a case by case basis. I have 13 degrees in one eye and 19 degrees in the other. So that made me a little hesitant but I went ahead and applied. During the home interview, the instructor was awesome and I left feeling like I may want to go there. But then once I started talking to more individuals, reading more articles, and thinking, I felt that that might not be the best school since I am still partially sighted and still do rely on my vision for things here and there. The instructor himself told me stories of sending home students because they had too much vision. That just didn’t sit well with me.
Guide Dogs for the Blind caters more towards individuals with partial sight, in my opinion. Now, you still have to be pretty dang blind to go there. You have to be legally blind to go to any guide dog school. So for someone with my disease, that’s 20 degrees or less which is nothing, haha. On Guide Dogs for the Blind website they have testimonials from a ton of students that talks about their eye disease and why they wanted to get a guide dog and how they are benefitting from it. There are SO many individuals on there that have Retinitis Pigmentosa and are still partially sighted. They, like me, can’t depend on their vision for orientation and mobility but they can depend on their vision for minor things. And that’s not to say that they don’t use what they have left to figure out where they are when navigating, but they can’t rely on it to prevent falling off curbs, steps, crossing streets, avoiding obstacles, finding a bus seat, etc. Because they do have so much experience and are open to individuals with some sight, this just gave me a better vibe. I understand why The Seeing Eye does what they do, but I’m just not sure that’s for me at the stage I’m at right now.
The whole concept between how blind or how sighted you are as an admissions decision is because they want you to be able to trust the dog and depend on the dog and not overrule the dog because you have too much sight. If you are partially sighted and see an obstacle in front of you that is blatantly obvious, you may try to avoid it by going right, for example. However, you don’t see that there is a drop off to your right so you try and get your dog to go that way. Your dog, on the other hand, does see that drop off so goes to the left. You don’t think that’s the best way so you try to overrule your dog, not trusting that it is making the best decision. You fall off and injure yourself, potentially very badly. You are also untraining the dog and after so much of this, the dog will essentially become just a pet and will not be dependable for guiding you. This is very dangerous in and of itself because you won’t have a cane, of course, and your dog won’t be guiding you. So essentially you will be walking around, blind, without any assistance. Bad, bad. But what happens when you lose that sight that helped you get around? Now, you are in an even stickier situation because you can’t rely on your vision to help you, even just a little bit, and your dog is untrained and isn’t dependable. THAT is why they want to evaluate how much vision you have. The key here is, even if you have partial vision, how much you are able to trust the dog. If the dog goes one way, will you trust it to do that even if you think there is a better path? This is partially evaluated during the home visit when the instructors come out for the Juno walk. They guide you with the harness just like you would be doing with the guide dog. If you are able to trust and follow the guide of the hardness, than that is a good indication of whether your vision will impact your ability to trust and have a successful working partnership with the guide dog. I passed this Juno walk just fine. After both schools came out they said that I would make a good candidate for a guide dog. It’s weird that for them, I have a lot of sight, when really I am almost blind. Odd concept to comprehend.
The Seeing Eye is in New Jersey and that just seems so cold to me. That wasn’t a deciding factor but it does. Guide Dog for the Blind in California is nice, of course, but their available training dates don’t match well with my year-round school schedule so Oregon it is. I didn’t realize how cold Oregon was until we got a packet in the mail and the highs were like in their 50’s and 60’s for this month. Oh my goodness.. and we’re going to be working mostly outside. That’s a bit intimidating.
They have different methods of training and rewarding the dog and I don’t really remember the differences but they weren’t significant enough for me to have that be a deciding factor.
The other big difference between the two schools is ownership. I am still unsure of what I think about the issue of ownership. With The Seeing Eye, upon graduation you get ownership of the guide dog. At Guide Dogs for the Blind, they maintain ownership of the dog but you are able to take it home and of course go with it where you need to go for the guide work. It is essentially yours but if at any reason they feel there might be abuse, neglect, or it isn’t being used as a guide dog, they have the right to take it back. I haven’t heard of this happening and don’t forsee it happening. A few years ago, the policy changed a little bit so that now, after a year of Guide Dog ownership, if all is going well, you can request that the ownership be transferred to you. They do annual visits for the first 2 years after you get your guide dog so at the first annual visit if they see that all is going well, you can get ownership of the dog. I didn’t think this was big to me because I know i’m going to treat the dog right and obviously use it as a guide dog, so there would be no reason to worry about this.
These are the main differences and similarities I saw between the two schools I applied to. I’m sure there are lots more, but these are what I took into consideration.