Guide dogs perform an amazing and critical service for the blind. The idea that dogs could reliably guide blind and visually impaired people took hold in Switzerland after World War I, when trainers saw German shepherd dogs working in Germany to aid veterans blinded in the war. The first school established in the United States to train guide dogs was The Seeing Eye in 1929. Other organizations followed. Today, assistance dogs, also called service dogs, are trained to provide a variety of tasks for people with a disability or medical problem.
If you are specifically searching for a retired guide dog to adopt, then you must start with the organizations that train and place the dogs.
Make a list of organizations that might need to place guide dogs who are retiring from working with the blind and visually impaired. Guide dog organizations you can list include The Seeing Eye (seeingeye.org), Leader Dogs for the Blind (leaderdog.org), Guide Dogs of America (guidedogsofamerica.org), Freedom Guide Dog (freedomguidedog.org) and Southeastern Guide Dogs (guidedogs.org). Some of these organizations may have a home office in one state and satellite training facilities in other states, so don't let the geographic location of the office deter you.
Prepare yourself for a long process. Dogs who can no longer perform their intended service due to age or disability usually are adopted by the family with which they have spent their lives. They are generally not available for adoption. Dogs are released from a guide dog organization's training program into the adoption program for any of a variety of reasons. In most cases, the program has revealed a medical or emotional issue that precludes the dog from further training as a guide dog. This usually happens between the ages of 18 months and 4 years. Such a dog still can be a wonderful pet.
Apply to one or more organizations on your list that have adoption programs. In many cases, you will be asked to make a donation or pay an adoption fee as high as $500. At least one organization will move you to a VIP list so that you get high priority if you donate $25,000. While a $500 donation may seem expensive, consider that you will be getting a dog that has been well-socialized and trained, is up-to-date on all vaccines, has already been spayed or neutered, and has had a complete physical.
Some organizations will let you adopt one of their dogs only if you live in a specific region. There will be other strict criteria as well. To avoid disappointment, check the organization's adoption policies before beginning the application process.
Prepare for an in-depth evaluation. Most organizations will have one of its volunteers visit your home to check on living arrangements for the dog; the type of home you own; and all household members, including other animals. If you're married, your spouse may be required to sign the application to assure the organization that everyone in the household will welcome the dog. Your veterinarian may be asked for a statement assessing your current suitability to take on a dog. You will also be asked for personal references. The organization will want to interview those who know you and will speak up for you. Many people want to adopt retired guide dogs, so the competition is great. The organization wants to find the best homes possible for its dogs.
Organizations that train assistance or service dogs have adoption programs similar to those of guide dog training organizations.
- German Shepherd image by Terraina Lambert from Fotolia.com