Guide Dogs for the Blind’s extensive follow-up program and alumni support services are the most comprehensive of their kind, including everything from phone consultation, personal home visits, education, networking, and many things in between! “Our commitment to clients continues through the working life of their guide dog or K9 Buddy, the dog’s retirement, and beyond,” says Lauren Kenney, GDB’s director of client experience. “We have a robust client support program that is truly unique.”
GDB’s Support Center Team is available by phone Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT as well as via a dedicated email address. Support Center staff assist clients with a variety of matters including ADA-related issues, guidework and dog behavioral concerns, travel questions, financial assistance for veterinary care, and provide emotional support around issues related to a dog’s retirement. “If someone calls with a problem, our team is very creative at coming up with a solution. We have even flown staff to a client’s home to bring a guide dog to our campus while the client recovers from an illness or injury,” explains Lauren.
Guide Dog Client Ever Arreola says GDB’s client support services are first-rate. “Once you leave GDB, things don’t end there. You have a big family that is there to help you out, either by contacting the Support Center or reaching out to other members of the Alumni Association. It’s all a great help.”
Lauren says support staff is also available via the Specialized Help section of the Be My Eyes app to assist GDB clients with guide dog-related issues such as equipment fit or questions regarding a frequently traveled route. “During the pandemic, GDB was the first guide dog school to offer this kind of visual assistance through the app as an innovative way to problem solve with clients,” notes Lauren.
Situations that require in-person support are referred to GDB’s field service managers and guide dog mobility instructors who assist clients throughout the U.S. and Canada with any issues they may be having with their guide dog or K9 Buddy. In tandem with the Support Center, the field service managers and guide dog mobility instructors coach and help problem-solve issues related to guidework, dog care, canine behavioral issues, and more. Susan Armstrong, GDB vice president of client programs, says GDB’s expert staff visit clients as needed and work on aspects of guide work such as navigating street crossings or public transportation or improving their timing when giving their dog food rewards. “Our goal is to prevent small issues from becoming large problems,” explains Susan.
GDB client and outdoor enthusiast Mary Wilson says the Support Center was incredibly helpful when she wanted advice on how to safely prepare to hike the Appalachian Trail with her guide dog Thor. Her GDB Field Services Manager Will Henry, also a guide dog mobility instructor and an avid hiker and backpacker, joined Mary for a 50-mile portion of the trail. “Will has been a huge resource for me, helping me troubleshoot little things if they popped up,” says Mary. “Hiking with my guide dog is vital to my mental health and physical wellbeing. I am incredibly grateful for people like Will who devote their lives to empowering people who are blind or visually impaired through the partnership of a guide dog.
“We’re here to help clients like Mary live the life they want to live,” says Will, adding “It was an honor to work with her and Thor and be a part of their journey.”