Guide Dogs in South Africa
South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind was founded in 1953 by Gladys Evans after she returned from England with her Guide Dog, Sheena. Gladys was a South African who travelled to the UK so that she could be trained with a Guide Dog. Once she realised how much a Guide Dog enhanced her life her next goal was to make Guide Dogs accessible to other South African citizens.
For centuries the dog has been a companion and aid to blind people. Throughout the ages, art and literature have placed a dog at the side of a person who is visually impaired (a mural was found in the Roman ruins that depicted a dog with a blind man).
In 1780 at ‘Les Quinze-Vingts’ hospital for the blind in Paris, work was done to try to train dogs for people who were visually impaired. There are a number of reliable records of people who trained their own dogs to act as guides in Europe during this time period.
Formal schools opened throughout Germany from 1916 to 1923. Dorothy Harrison Eustis wrote an article on the work done by the Potsdam school that was published in the Saturday Evening Post (October 1927).
Dorothy was a wealthy American, living in Switzerland, she was inspired to begin training Guide Dogs. She was contacted by an American man, Morris Frank, who had read the newspaper article. He was very motivated to have a Guide Dog. She trained a dog called Buddy for Frank.
Dorothy eventually returned to the USA and established The Seeing Eye in Morristown New Jersey.
For a comprehensive history follow the link, International Guide Dog Federation – History of Guide Dogs
Q. When was the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind (GDA) established?
A. GDA was established in 1953 to train Guide Dogs. Service Dogs and Autism Support Dogs have been trained since 1990. The College of Orientation and Mobility was established in 1974.
Q. How long does it take to train a working dog?
A. The actual training is around 6 to 9 months but GDA is responsible for the puppy from the moment it is born. Working dog training commences at around 12 months, depending on the breed. Therefore the entire training process takes an average of 18 to 24 months.
Q. How much does it cost to train a working dog?
A. It costs approximately R80,000 to R100,000 to train a working dog with their owner and to provide a follow up service for the working life of the dog. A puppy may be sponsored for R 5,000.
Q. Do you breed your own dogs?
A. Yes, we breed Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, cross Labrador/Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs.
Q. How much does a person who is visually impaired contribute towards the cost of the training?
A. We want working dogs to be available to any person regardless of their financial position. Working dog owners need to be able to afford to care for a working dog on a monthly basis. The working dog owner is responsible for the feeding and routine veterinary care of the dog. The working dog owner pays R205 which includes a trained working dog, the training/accommodation and equipment.
Q. Does the applicant have to be totally blind to qualify for a Guide Dog?
A. No, many people who have residual vision still benefit from using a mobility aid such as a Guide Dog or white cane (also known as a long cane).
Q. How is the working dog thanked for doing a good job?
A. Working dogs enjoy affection from their owners. Physical touch is very rewarding as is vocal praise. Working dogs often receive a small titbit from their owner after completing requested tasks.
Q. Are you allowed to talk to or touch a working dog?
A. Always ask the owner if you may touch or talk to the dog.
Q. Are you allowed to feed a working dog?
A. No. Working dogs should only be fed by their owner. The owner is aware of the amount and type of food that the dog should be eating. Some dogs have allergies and can only eat specific diets.
Q. Is a working dog on duty 24/7?
A. No, when the working dog is off duty then the harness/jacket is removed and the dog behaves as a normal pet would. Most working dogs are off duty for a large part of the day. They are only on duty when they are guiding their owner or performing tasks.
Q. How long can a working dog work for before retirement?
A. Usually about 8 – 10 years, but this varies according to the health of the working dog and the normal aging process.
Q. What happens if the working dog and owner are faced with a problem that requires immediate intervention?
A. An Instructor from S A Guide-Dogs Association will visit the partnership within 24 hours no matter where they live in South Africa.
Q. What happens to working dogs when they are too old to work?
A. They retire, usually staying with the owner. If this is not possible GDA will find a loving home for the retired dog.
Q. Can the public visit the GDA training centre?
A. Yes, as individuals or groups. We have regular Graduation Days where we are able to accommodate visitors. Unfortunately, we can’t accommodate ad hoc visitors. Please telephone (011 705 3512) or e-mail (email@example.com) to find out when we have a Graduation Day and book your visit.
Q. Are there any other Guide Dog centres in Africa?
A. No, GDA is the only training centre in Africa.
Q. Does GDA receive any form of assistance from the government?
A. No, all our funds come from donations and our own fundraising initiatives.
Q. Who is the owner of the working dog?
A. The working dog is owned by a person who is differently-abled. GDA enters into a contract with the owner and can re-purchase the working dog under certain specified conditions. GDA visits the dog and owner on an annual basis for the life of the dog and is available to offer advice and assistance.
If there are any other questions you would like to ask us please feel free to contact Vernon Tutton (Executive Director) VernonT@guidedog.org.za
South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind is a registered Nonprofit Organisation, 000-758 NPO, and Public Benefit Organisation, 130001003.