Guide Dog Foundation Celebrates 75 Years

GDF's first graduate, Vito Vero

Our History

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.

A handler and his guide dog walk up the stairs to an Eastern Airline airplane.

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.

A graduate class from 1952.

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.

Special Events

Join us for the 75th Anniversary Guide Dog Foundation Virtual Run & Dog Walk to be held from April 24, 2021 through May 9, 2021. Learn more.

Header for virtual run landing page. Logo on top of runners at previous GDF event.

Sponsorships

In celebration of our 75th birthday, we have ambitious goals to increase our impact in multiples of 75! Whether it is looking to increase our number of puppy raisers, placements or partners - we are looking to grow. To accomplish this we’re seeking passionate partners who not only believe in our mission but want to be fully involved in raising awareness to help us reach these objectives. Here’s how you can help!75th anniversary logo

As a partner, you can also support the Guide Dog Foundation by making a vital gift of support:

  • $6,000  - ($750 a month for eight months) Name a Puppy – give a puppy their name for life!
  • $7,500 – Name a Kennel in perpetuity in honor of your company or someone who inspires you!
  • $75,000 Diamond Jubilee partner: Be part of the Guide Dog Foundation’s history as a key partner in our 75th Anniversary celebration. This is a year-long partnership where you will be recognized and highlighted throughout the year on social media, print material and all Guide Dog Foundation events. Your donation will go directly towards helping us breed, train and place guide dogs with individuals who are blind or have low vision.
  • 75th Anniversary Virtual 5k Run and Dog Walk - Join us for thistaking place April 24 through May 9. For more information on becoming a sponsor or participating in this event click here.

You can also help support the Guide Dog Foundation through a Cause-Related Marketing Program, Social Media Campaign, or a special product offerings for those within our community. If you're interested in any of these opportunities, please contact Jennifer Gisler at 516-404-0812 or Jennifer.Gisler@GuideDog.org.

Anniversary Partners

The Guide Dog Foundation would like to thanks the following partners for their support of our 75th Anniversary.
       

Limited Edition Merchandise


Make a gift of $75 or more and receive a commemorative 75th Anniversary calendar.  Include "Calendar" in the "How did you hear about us" area of our donate page. Offer ends on December 15, 2020. 

Archive Videos

Out of the Shadows - Part 1

Out of the Shadows - Part 2

Out of the Shadows - Part 3

Milton Berle Guide Dog Foundation PSA - - Back in the 1950s, comedian Milton Berle recorded a public service announcement for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. Back then, we often used the "Second Sight" tagline.

Vintage Photo Gallery

A woman and her guide dog approach a curb on the corner of Moore Ave and Lawrence Ave. in Oceanside, NY.

A woman and her guide dog approach a curb on the corner of Moore Ave and Lawrence Ave. in Oceanside, NY.
A guide team in training navigates the stairs at a Long Island Railroad station.

Guide team walking down stairs at a LIRR station.
A group of students practice working with their harness on their knee. 

A group of students practice working with their harness on their knee.
A guide team in training steps off a curb in front of a Desoto as they step down off a curb.

A guide team in training steps off a curb in front of a Desoto as they step down off a curb.
A group of guide dog students stand in front of the original dormitory as they break their canes over their knees.

A group of guide dog students stand in front of the original dormitory as they break their canes over their knees.
Two photos show Foundation vehicles. The top one is a powder blue van from the 60's, the side cargo doors are open and inside sits a yellow Lab in harness. The photo below that shows a parked 1950's station wagon. Both vehicles say "Second Sight - Guide Dog Foundation" on the front doors. 

Two photos show Foundation vehicles. The top one is a powder blue van from the 60's, the side cargo doors are open and inside sits a yellow Lab in harness. The photo below that shows a parked 1950's station wagon. Both vehicles say 'Second Sight - Guide Dog Foundation' on the front doors.