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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Client Services

Hello, this is Lauren Kenney, Director of Client Services at GDB. I’d like to talk to you today about support services that we offer to all of our graduates across the US and Canada. I’ll also briefly touch on the Veterinary Financial Assistance program and review the ownership policy here at Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Client Services Program
Client Services is here to facilitate and support your partnership with a Guide Dog starting from your first contact with our organization, throughout your application and training experience, and long after you return home with your dog. Our program is designed to offer information and advice at any time, adding to your own knowledge and skills while ensuring that your dog is working safely and meeting your individual needs. Before concluding any class program, each student meets with their instructor to discuss plans for the new team’s transition back home. Later the class supervisor will make calls to each graduate (usually scheduled for approximately two weeks post-class) to touch base, see how the transition period is going, and offer helpful advice. About eight weeks after that, clients can expect a courtesy call from our Support Center sending greetings while offering themselves as an ongoing information resource for every guide dog handler.

There are two main components to the Client Services program.

Support Center
The first component is our telephonic Support Center. Monday through Friday, from 8AM-5PM (Pacific Standard Time) GDB staff are ready and waiting to take calls from graduates. By calling the GDB toll free number, 800-295-4050, you will have the option of pressing 2 for any questions you might have for the Support Center specialists regarding guide work, house behaviors or retiring a dog, and option 3 for any questions regarding canine health or veterinary financial assistance. During the conversation they may also recommend and facilitate a direct visit with you by GDB staff.

Direct Support
The second part of the Client Services program is Direct Support. The Support Center may recommend and facilitate a direct, in person visit with you to address a complex issue. We also schedule periodic home area visits to provide direct support at key times in your working team relationship.

Direct Support Regions
GDB has divided the country into eight support regions, each with an assigned field manager. These individuals are dedicated to providing direct assistance to the clients in their zone, conducting graduate visits and applicant home interviews. Additionally, the field managers coordinate the regional assignments of campus instructors who are regularly scheduled to travel into the field for these purposes. These experiences are doubly beneficial - as clients receive professional attention, GDB staff are noting practical challenges facing Guide Dog teams. These real life examples continually inform our dog training development and class training objectives.

Direct Support Visits
There are several types of Direct Support visits designed to support your success as a working team.

  • Transition Visits may be especially helpful during the period following class training, as recommended by your Class Supervisor.
  • Emergent Visits may be scheduled at any time. During a discussion with Support Center staff, if it is determined that you require in-person assistance, we will make arrangements to visit you as soon as possible.
  • Annual Visits are automatically provided for experienced Guide Dog users within the first year with their new dog. For first-time Guide Dog users two visits are scheduled, one during the first and another during the second year with their new partners. These early visits with a GDB professional provide the opportunity for fine tuning your handling and customizing your travel strategies.

Even as you and your dog develop a more established partnership, Client Services will continue to stay in touch. We will let you know when a staff member will be in your area. You’ll have the option at that time of requesting a direct visit. If the partnership with your dog is going smoothly, and you have no questions or concerns that you wish to discuss with a staff member in person, you may opt to receive a telephonic visit instead. This process will continue until your dog reaches nine years of age.

At nine years of age, we will request that direct visits resume on an annual basis. We would like to help you prepare for the eventual retirement of your guide dog and ensure that we are providing a continuum of service during this transition.

There is no set date for your guide to retire. Some dogs retire around the age of eight years, other dogs are still working at thirteen; there is a wide range. Commonly, as the dog ages, it becomes more physically difficult for the dog to maintain its workload. Some dogs may lose some enthusiasm to work or are unable to maintain a sharp enough mental state to reliably make good guide work decisions. You, as the guide dog user, will be the one to recognize when your dog’s work starts to lose some of its normal sharpness. When it is time for your dog to retire (and assuming that you have been working with the dog for a period of twelve months or longer), you will have the first option to keep him or her in retirement or to place the dog with a trusted family member or friend. In other situations, Guide Dogs for the Blind can assist with re-homing your dog. In these cases, we will contact your dog’s original puppy raisers to offer them the opportunity to provide your dog a home during retirement. If this is not an option, we will identify another loving home for your guide. A Client Support Specialist, who is also a guide dog user, is available to support you through the process of retiring your guide dog. She is also available for emotional support as needed throughout your relationship with GDB.

Veterinary Financial Assistance Program
The Veterinary Financial Assistance program is in place to support you if you are in need of financial assistance in providing veterinary care for your Guide Dog. During the class program, time is set aside to cover this subject in detail. Our organization is obligated to use our financial resources responsibly; to maintain this program as our Guide Dog population grows, we ask all graduates to assist with whatever portion their guide’s veterinary cost hey can.

GDB’s Dog Ownership Policy
After the first year post graduation, a graduate may request ownership of their guide. There is no cost to become the legal owner of your guide dog, and neither the Veterinary Financial Assistance Program nor the support program is in any way changed by taking ownership of your guide. Requests for ownership can be considered after your first year with your guide (which has included a direct visit from a GDB staff person) and are facilitated through the Support Center. The harness remains the property of Guide Dogs for the Blind and must be returned upon the death or retirement of the Guide Dog at the sole discretion of GDB.

I hope this overview of client services has been helpful. All of us in the Client Services Department wish you the very best of luck. I encourage you to call us for assistance as needed. Support is only a phone call away.

Audio Streaming

You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.