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International Guide Dog Day

Founded by the International Federation of Guide Dog Schools for the Blind, which now is the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), International Guide Dog Day provides the opportunity to celebrate guide dogs and the work they do. It honors the dogs for their skill and loyalty and raises awareness about the importance of the services they provide to help those who are blind or visually impaired be able to live their lives to their fullest. First celebrated in 1992, it was created in honor of the anniversary of the founding of the International Federation of Guide Dog Associations on April 26, 1989. On International Guide Dog Day, guide dog organizations are encouraged to put together local events to celebrate their work. Open houses are sometimes held at dog training centers. There have also been themes for different years.

Guide dogs are dogs that have been trained to help their blind or visually impaired owners achieve increased independence, social interaction, and mobility. There are more guide dogs than any other type of assistance service dogs. As of 2022, there were 20,291 guide dogs registered as working worldwide through organizations affiliated with the IGDF, with about 3,000 new guide dogs being trained each year. Current guide dog numbers can be found on the IGDF website. The IGDF defines and maintains the international standards for training guide dogs, and supports new guide dog organizations so they can meet IGDF standards and become fully accredited. They also offer scholarships to guide dog instructors to develop professional skills at IGDF member organizations.

References to dogs guiding blind people appear as far back as the 1200s and became more frequent by the 1700s. The first attempt to train dogs to aid blind people was in about 1780 at the Quinze-Vingts National Ophthalmology Hospital in Paris. Johann Wilhelm Klein, founder of the Institute for the Education of the Blind, mentioned the concept of guide dogs in his book Lehrbuch zum Unterricht der Blinden (Textbook for Teaching the Blind), released in 1819. It is the earliest description of a systematic method of training guide dogs.

The real acceleration with the training of guide dogs came during World War I after many soldiers returned home blind, often from poison gas. Dr. Gerhard Stalling, a German doctor, came up with the idea of training dogs on a large scale to help those blinded in the war. The idea sparked after he saw signs that his dog was looking after a blind patient at the hospital after he left the dog walking alone with the patient on the hospital grounds when he had to leave and tend to an urgent matter. In 1916, Stalling and the German Red Cross Ambulance Dogs Association opened the first guide dog school for the blind in Oldenburg. It was followed by the opening of many other schools throughout the country. The dogs were used not only for those blinded in the war, but also by blind people in England, Spain, Italy, France, the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union. The school in Oldenburg closed in 1926, but by that time a larger one had been opened by the German Shepherd Dog Association in Potsdam. It trained about 100 dogs at a time and could have about 12 dogs fully trained each month. They formalized training methods that are used in most guide dog schools today.

Dorothy Harrison Eustis had been training dogs in Switzerland. When she heard about the Potsdam Center, she visited it and learned about its methods. Impressed, she wrote an article about her experience in the Saturday Evening Post in 1927. A blind man in America, Morris Frank, read the article and said it changed his life. He went to Switzerland and learned how to work with a dog Eustis had trained. He returned to the United States with it, and it became what is believed to be the first guide dog in the United States. In 1928, Eustis established L’Oeil qui Voit (The Seeing Eye) in Vevey, Switzerland. She also visited the United States and established The Seeing Eye school in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1929. The Scuola Nazionale Cani Guida per Ciechi (National School of Guide Dogs for the Blind) was also established in 1928. These three schools were the first guide dog schools of the modern era. They were followed in 1934 by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Guide dog schools have continued to open all over the world since, and today, on International Guide Dog Day, we honor the dogs they train and raise awareness about the guidance the dogs provide.

How to Observe International Guide Dog Day

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