USA Online Poll
Guide Dogs: More Than Man’s Best Friend
From saving lives to enhancing hunting experiences to providing companionship, dogs have had a special relationship with humans for centuries that earned them the title of man’s best friend. And for many people with disabilities, these dedicated canines are far more than that.
More than 60 years ago, Joseph Jones, Sr., a retired member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), recognized the ability of dogs to provide independence and mobility to the disabled. Blind at age 57, he applied to existing schools for a guide dog but was turned down due to his “advanced age.”
Unwilling to accept defeat, Jones sought help from the IAM’s Executive Council, which determined there was a growing need for guide dog services and endorsed the founding, in 1948, of International Guiding Eyes (IGE), which was later renamed Guide Dogs of America (GDA).
It was one of the first guide dog schools to adopt a policy of no upper age discrimination, and it continues to provide guide dogs and instruction in their use, free of charge, to blind and visually impaired men and women across the U.S. and Canada.
Unlike other tools and aides for the blind, guide dogs have unique personalities and attributes, just like humans. Recognizing the critical interdependence between the user and the dog, GDA takes the lifestyle of each visually impaired person into consideration as well as the individuality of both the user and the dog to ensure they are a good match.
While the improved quality of life guide dogs provide to the visually impaired is priceless, the process of training the dogs and preparing both them and their owners comes at a significant expense. It costs approximately $42,000 to train each dog and provide instruction to the guide dog user. The dogs typically begin working when they are two and a half years old and provide their valuable service for six to eight years.
Guide Dogs of America receives no funding from the federal, state or local government, so it relies on voluntary contributions from union members, charitable foundations, corporations and individuals. With a 40-person staff made up of IAMAW members and a board of directors consisting of IAMAW members, business leaders and graduates, the Machinists’ Union continues to be an integral part of the organization. While the union advocates the school’s mission, it also helps raise funds for the GDA both at the international and local level by hosting a variety of events including golf tournaments, motorcycle poker runs and skeet and trap shoots, including the annual R. Thomas Buffenbarger Skeet & Trap Shoot.
This fall, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance will join the IAMAW in helping fundraise for this worthy program with its Las Vegas Trap & Skeet Shoot on November 15 at the Clark County Shooting Complex.
“We are extremely proud and grateful that the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance has chosen to partner with GDA to host a skeet shoot during our annual Las Vegas event,” said GDA President Dale E. Hartford. “It is through events like these that we are able to continue our programs that offer freedom and mobility to those who cannot see.”
“Those who hunt with dogs understand the special bond that develops as you work the field together as a team and the pride you feel when those shared signals and commands lead to your quarry. Imagine how strong the bond must be between the visually impaired and their guide dogs,” said USA Executive Director Fred Myers. “We are very happy to support Guide Dogs of America and the independence they provide to the blind, while bringing together union members for a day of fun in the outdoors.”
Learn more about GDA at www.guidedogsofamerica.org.