What’s the secret to successfully breeding, raising, and training an amazing guide dog? Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) has long been committed to participating in canine-related research to advance the health, behavior, and overall welfare of our program dogs. Thanks to the extraordinary support from Elizabeth A. Gard and Thomas J. Furlong, GDB launched the Gard/Furlong Canine Research Program last year to formally kickstart and incorporate this effort.
Dr. Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere is GDB’s Director of Canine Research and Development. She identifies, supports, and oversees research that focuses on improving the health, well-being, and success of GDB dogs. Dr. Sarah also serves as a resource to GDB staff and cultivates partnerships with peer organizations and universities.
CANINE HEALTH AND LONGEVITY SURVEY
One project Dr. Sarah is overseeing is GDB’s Canine Health and Longevity Survey, which seeks to obtain medical and end-of-life information on GDB’s dogs. “These surveys are essential to track medical trends and will help us identify health-related conditions that may not appear early on in a dog’s life,” says Dr. Sarah. “Very few guide dog organizations conduct regular health surveys of this magnitude, so GDB will be leading the industry with this effort.” The results from the survey will be used to guide decision making across all canine-related teams at GDB.
“The best science always starts small,” says Dr. Sarah. To ensure the validity of the survey, people who adopt retired breeders were asked to complete an early version in April 2022. Thanks to 270 survey respondents, GDB has preliminary information regarding the health and longevity of our breeding colony. While the data is currently being analyzed, very few health-related concerns have been identified. Comments in the survey include: “Our retired breeder is aging gracefully!” and “She’s doing really well for a 13-year-old!”
The next step for this research involves sending the survey to people who adopt GDB program dogs and regularly collecting health updates.
“Many diseases that affect dogs have a heritable component, so the more information we know about the diseases our dogs develop, the healthier our GDB dogs can be,” says Dr. Sarah, noting that it’s equally helpful to know if a dog has been healthy and disease-free. “To help the GDB dog and client teams of tomorrow, the collective support of all GDB dogs is needed.”
BENCHMARKS AND SURVEILLANCE
The Canine Health and Longevity Survey represents just one project being conducted at GDB that helps establish benchmarks for industry excellence. The results from these projects will help Dr. Sarah determine how to best develop a monitoring system to identify opportunities for improvement in real-time on everything from breeding and puppy raising, to training and client services. By utilizing historical data and identifying statistically significant trends, evidence-informed decision-making can occur earlier. “For GDB this is an exceptionally important piece of the puzzle as puppies that are whelped today will be placed as guides in over a year,” notes Dr. Sarah.
Canine and Community Operations Officer, Kristin Lucas, is excited to have Dr. Sarah on the team, stating “she has an amazing breadth of knowledge, a fresh perspective, collaborative skills and industry reputation, as well as a curiosity and a love of dogs and people to help GDB move our canine research forward — all in service to canine success and longevity in partnership with individuals with visual impairments. With Dr. Sarah at the helm, we look forward to strengthening our external research relationships and utilizing our incredible resources to advance our knowledge in the guide dog industry and beyond.”
“To help the GDB dog and client teams of tomorrow, the collective support of all GDB dogs is needed.” —Dr. Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere