History of the Guide Dog Foundation
In 1946, after World War II, five community leaders founded a guide dog school in metropolitan New York to provide guide dogs at no charge for blind or visually impaired students, including veterans who had returned from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific.
They located William Holzmann, a dog trainer, and hired him to develop a method of training. That year they graduated their first two graduates, Vito Vero and Arthur Torgersen. The original office was located in Forest Hills, Queens. The space was limited and resources were scarce. In the early days, experimentation with training was the norm. Instructors – and students – worked together to determine what training methods worked best to create the finest team possible. This commitment to excellence has since remained a guiding principle of the Foundation. As the needs of students change, the Foundation responds with innovative training enhancements to meet those evolving needs.
In the late 1940s, the present Smithtown, N.Y., property was purchased and in 1949 the name was changed to Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc. There was a kennel, but there were no residential facilities for the students. The students were put up in rooming houses in the local area. The school built a “miniature city” to simulate the same types of obstacles and hazards a guide dog team would encounter in their daily travels. After a day or two of practice and work on campus, students begin facing “real-world” situations with their new guide dogs – crossing a busy intersection or walking down the street filled with pedestrians or navigating in a busy mall.
In the 1960s, under the direction of two English trainers, the Foundation combined a blend of English and American techniques which we continue to use today. Also, at that time they began the breeding program with Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. In fact, many of the guide dogs that work today are descendants of those original dog.
In 2003, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (VetDogs parent organization) recognized the need for an assistance dog program for veterans that would incorporate guide dogs, service dogs, and innovative training techniques. America’s VetDogs was created and incorporated to give veterans easy access to the best services possible to improve their lives.
In 2008, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind became the first assistance dog school in the United States to be accredited by both the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International, the two international bodies that certify guide and service dog schools, respectively. The Foundation has also consistently received high marks from charity watchdog organizations, including a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator.
Today, the Guide Dog Foundation maintains its training campus in Smithtown on the original property, which is about 40 miles east of New York City. It is easily accessible to all modes of transportation. The campus consists of administrative offices, students' residence, state-of-the-art kennel and a puppy nursery. The eight-acre site also includes an obstacle course and a Japanese garden for our students' enjoyment.
The Guide Dog Foundation continues to provide guide dogs free of charge to blind people who seek enhanced mobility and independence. In addition to providing Second Sight® through the use of our guide dogs, the Guide Dog Foundation offers extensive public education vehicles to broaden society's understanding of vision, visual impairment, blindness, and disability rights.
To see some of the early workings of the Foundation, check out the following three part series called Out of the Shadows. This film was created in the early 60's.