BC & Alberta Guide Dogs (BC Guide Dog Services)
Our Story Why We Exist
Echo has been a part of our family for almost a year and a half, but it feels like we've never been without him. He's had a huge impact on us, especially on our nine-year-old son, Jason. Jason was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. He had no safety awareness and was having regular tantrums, each of which could last up to two hours. Public outings were stressful for our family, and we lived in constant anxiety that Jason may bolt (suddenly run off) out of our reach and endanger himself. When we saw a news story about Autism Support Dogs, we decided to apply.
When we got the call that Echo would be joining our family, we were ecstatic. Jason has always loved animals – dogs in particular. He loves cuddling them and talking to them, so when Echo became part of our family, their bond was immediate.
Jason has experienced many positive behavioural changes since Echo arrived. Most noticeably, his ability to express himself verbally has improved, and he talks to Echo as if they were old friends. When we are out in public and people ask us questions about Echo, Jason takes the lead to answer them. Additionally, nowadays when he becomes agitated, Jason has learned to soothe himself by hugging Echo. Even if Echo is not within close reach, Jason is now able to calm himself down by taking deep breaths and simply thinking of Echo. As parents, we take great comfort in knowing that wherever Echo is, so is Jason.
The bond these two have is incredible, and this year it was even more evident when we took a family vacation to Disneyland. We were a little nervous, but with Echo by Jason’s side, our anxiety was put to rest. The pair did great together throughout the trip, and we were so proud of both of them!
Echo is a sweet and fun-loving dog. He loves to play with his chew toys and likes to think we like them too. Sometimes he comes up to us and teases us with them, letting us almost grab the toys and then running away with them. He also enjoys running around the backyard with the kids and going to the dog park to play with other dogs.
Our entire family has benefitted so much from having Echo, and we are so very grateful that he has come into our life. Not only are we all a little calmer, but Jason also has a new best friend and guardian. Although the smile on Jason’s face when he is with Echo is priceless, we recognize the financial support, time and effort that went into training Echo for this very important job. Thank you so much to all the donors, trainers and staff who made this possible.
- Jason & Echo, Autism Support Dog Team.
The Gubbels Family
Our Impact What We Do
Imagine being able to transform someone’s life with the gift of independence. That is what a professionally trained Guide Dog or Autism Support Dog can do for someone who is blind or visually impaired, or a child with moderate to severe autism.
Take a moment and visualize the benefits these service dogs give their recipients on a day-to-day basis; increased safety, enhanced mobility, facilitated safe navigation and freedom and confidence to explore for blind/visually-impaired individuals.
For a child with autism, increased safety, positive changes in behaviour, improved social skills, more predictability in social situations, increased security and support for the child, improved sleeping habits and much more are possible. The entire family benefits. Having an Autism Support Dog means being able to do simple things the rest of us take for granted, like going to the supermarket, the mall or the park as a family. In essence, it means being able to experience childhood, instead of missing out.
Alberta Guide Dog Services is a division of British Columbia Guide Dog Services (a registered charity). Our mission is to meet the growing demand for professionally trained Guide Dogs and Autism Support Dogs for citizens of Alberta. Each puppy born through our in-house breeding program has the potential to grow up to change someone's life.
Although often viewed as a dog organization, BC & Alberta Guide Dogs is actually an organization about people. When evaluating applicants' suitability for Guide Dog or Autism Support Dog training, we see ability rather than disability. All training programs are tailored to the needs of each individual, which includes domiciliary (at-home) training in the client’s familiar environment. While our services are provided at no cost to recipients, it takes two years and up to $35,000 to breed, raise and train one of these furry heroes-in-the-making. We are not government funded and rely on the generosity of donors, as well as special events and fundraisers, for funding.
To date, 110 Guide Dogs have significantly changed the lives of their owners in a myriad of ways, including safe and enhanced mobility. Thirty-three children and their families, all of whom are living with autism, are enjoying the diverse and wide-ranging benefits of an Autism Support Dog. Overall demand for our services continues to grow rapidly and our goal is to graduate 220 service dog teams by the year 2020.
- In honour of International Guide Dog Day, we launched our movie, Birth to Retirement: Full Circle of a Guide Dog. The movie follows a BC & Alberta Guide Dogs Team, Rosamund and Guide Dog Rory and shows how our dogs are bred, raised and trained to become life-changing dogs. The movie is available on our website in closed captioning and described video - click on this link to watch: our movie.
Some of the things that make our organization unique include:
o Blind or visually impaired youth. Many guide dog schools insist a person be 18 years old before getting a guide dog. We were one of the first guide dog schools in the world to specialize in matching youths aged 13 to 18 with guide dogs, helping them gain freedom, confidence and independence as they go through high school and, hopefully, university!
o Tenure of our CEO. William Thornton graduated as an accredited Guide Dog Mobility Instructor in 1980, founded the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind organization in 1984 and founded BC & Alberta Guide Dog Services in 1996 and 2002 respectively. He is also a Charter Member of the International Guide Dog Federation, an 80-member global organization, and spent 14 years on their Board of Directors. He is also an International Assessor for the International Guide Dog Federation.
o In-house breeding program. We maintain our own breeding program so we can be assured of the quality and quantity of puppies being produced each year.
o Two years of hands-on training. Our puppies are placed with volunteer puppy raisers for the first 14-16 months of their life to learn basic obedience commands and, more importantly, being socialized to every environment possible. At 14-16 months the puppies commence “advanced training” with a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor for a further 4-6 months. Around the age of two, the dog becomes certified and the pre-partnership stage begins.
o Pre-partnership consultations. Our professional mobility instructors spend time through personal one-on-one visits with each applicant to assess individual needs, limitations, and desires. This thorough process ensures that we are matching the specific individual needs of the client with the most suitable dog
o Full-time, one-on-one in-home training. Our mobility instructors work directly with clients for a minimum of two weeks upon partnering with the guide dog or autism support dog. Despite the higher cost of training clients from their home, we are committed to this model as it reduces stress for the client and dog, and increases success.
o Post-match follow-up visits at three months, then annually, and as needed.
Our Programs How We Do It
For almost 20 years, we have been expertly breeding and training guide dogs for blind and visually impaired individuals, and more recently support dogs for children with moderate to severe autism.
It takes an average of two years to train a guide dog or autism support dog and requires an entire team of veterinarians, staff, trainers, and volunteers. We understand the profound impact our dogs have, and we take every effort necessary to partner the right dog with the right client.
The overall process to raise and train a service dog includes:
- Breeding: We manage our own breeding program, giving careful consideration to litter frequency, health of the bitch and sire, genetics and more.
- Puppy Training: Once the puppies are weaned, they are placed with volunteer puppy raisers for the first 14-16 months of their life. During this time, they learn basic obedience and are socialized to every environment possible. We support the volunteers with our staff member (Puppy Training Supervisor) who holds on-going obedience classes and one-on-one visits and evaluations with them.
- Advanced Training: At 14-16 months of age, the puppies commence “advanced training” with a Certified Guide Dog Mobility Instructor for a further 4 - 6 months. Here they are taught more specific skills and are assessed as to suitability for placement with a recipient.
- Placement: Upon completing advanced training, the dogs are placed with a recipient. Our professional training staff faciliate full-time, one-on-one in-home training with clients for two to four weeks. Despite the higher cost of training people at their homes (travel and accommodation costs for our instructors), we are committed to this model as it reduces stress for the recipients and increases success of the team.
- After-care: Post-match follow-up visits at 3 months, then annually. We are also available as needed for questions, addressing any areas of concern or for further training.
To date, we have graduated 111 Guide Dogs and 33 Autism Support Dogs. Our goal is to reduce the current two-year wait list for a professionally trained service dog. All of the service dog schools across Canada are dealing with a similar wait list.
Demand for both Guide Dogs and Autism Support Dogs continues to rapidly grow. Currently, there are 1,200 Guide Dogs working in Canada, which equates to less than 1% of blind or visually impaired people currently having a working Guide Dog. Vision loss in Canada is expected to increase by nearly 30% in the next decade.
The CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network estimates about 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is almost five times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189).
Our goal is to graduate 220 service dog teams by the year 2020. To this end, we have increased our breeding program substantially this year and are expanding our in-house capacity to support these dogs through our training program within the year.
Our Requests What You Can Do
How can you help?
You can help puppies grow up to become Guide Dogs or Autism Support Dogs — loyal, reliable partners for those who need them. But the benefits don’t end there. Since the working life of service dogs is approximately eight to nine years, that means your support will make a difference in someone’s life for years to come.
It costs up to $35,000 to breed, raise, train, place and provide life-long aftercare support for each Guide or Autism Support Dog that graduates. To supply more people with professionally trained Guide and Autism Support Dogs we need to increase the number of dogs in our program. In order to do this we need more funding.
Ways to support:
1) One-time or Monthly Donations: make a tax-deductible contribution any time of year.
2) Puppy Sponsorship: follow the progress of a puppy from birth to graduation with regular photos and letters.
- Mom & Pups Fund ($1,000 gift). Support the care of a mom and her litter. You will receive a birth announcement photo of mom with her pups. Then, we will match you with a puppy from that litter who, from 8 weeks of age until approximately 2 years of age, will send regular photos and letters to you.
- Puppy Naming ($5,000 gift). Choose a name for one of our puppies. You will receive a photo of your named pup. We will then match you with a puppy from that same litter who, from 8 weeks of age until approximately 2 years of age, will send regular photos and letters to you.
- Adopt a Puppy ($35,000). Support a puppy along its entire journey to potentially become a life-changing service dog. It costs up to $35,000 to breed, raise, train, place and provide life-long aftercare for each dog we graduate. You will choose a name for one of the puppies and he or she will, from 8 weeks of age until approximately 2 years of age, send regular photos and letters to you!
3) Bequests or Endowments: set up a gift in your will or establish an endowment in memory of a loved one.
4) Life Insurance Policies: name our charity as a beneficiary; your premiums will qualify as tax-deductible contributions.
5) Fundraising: organize a fundraising event or ask friends and family to donate on special occasions.
- Be a Puppy Trainer. Puppies begin living with volunteers at about 8 weeks old and stay until they are 14 – 16 months of age when they start their advanced training. During this time Puppy Trainers expend time, energy and love to the puppies in order to raise puppies that are well prepared for their professional training as a service dog. Our Puppy Raising Supervisor supports Puppy Trainers and the cost of dog food, veterinary care and other basic necessities are covered. Monthly training evaluations and regular obedience classes are required as is availability during the weekdays for these sessions.