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 individuals who were blind or visually impaired, including veterans who had returned from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. The original office was located in Forest Hills, Queens.
William Holzmann, a reputable dog trainer, was hired to develop a training program, and that year, the first two guide dogs were successfully placed with Vito Vero and Arthur Torgersen. In those 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, New York, 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, so students had to stay in rooming houses in the 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, the Foundation combined a blend of English and American training techniques that we continue to use today. During this time, the school also began its breeding program with Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. In fact, many of the guide dogs that work today are descendants of those original dogs.
In 2003, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind 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, such as Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, and GuideStar.
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 Guide Dog Foundation continues to provide guide dogs free of charge to blind people who seek enhanced mobility and independence to enable them to live without boundaries. 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.
Please find additional historical photos below along with a three part film from the 60's called "Out of the Shadows" which highlights the guide dog program at that time.