90 years of Guide Dogs

October 11, 2021

I’ve recently been lucky enough to work with one of my dream charities – Guide Dogs – to help them raise awareness of the charity’s 90th anniversary. Turns out, their history and the work they’re doing is even cooler than I’d imagined. So, I wanted to celebrate the 90th by sharing a few of their key milestones:

1931: First partnerships qualified

Inspired by projects in America, Germany and Switzerland, two inspirational women called Muriel Cooke and Rosamund Bond decided to start training dogs to support servicemen who had lost their sight in WW1. The first four dogs were all female German Shepherds – not the labs and retrievers that are usually guide dogs today. Muriel and Rosamund organised the training from a lock up garage in Wallasey, Merseyside, and the first guide dog partnerships qualified in October 1931.

In just six months, the owners of the four guide dogs – Flash, Folly, Meta and Judy – had rediscovered independence and freedom that they hadn’t experienced since before the war. Three years later the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was officially formed.

1941: Edmondscote Manor

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association moves to Edmondscote Manor where it starts to offer residential training to guide dog owners and their dogs.

1956: Puppy raisers

In the mid 1950s, the charity starts recruiting and training volunteers to raise their puppies.

1960: Breeding programme

The charity starts its own breeding programme to raise happier, healthier dogs. This is now the world’s largest breeding programme for assistance dogs. In the 1970s, as the charity’s services expanded, the Tollgate House breeding and puppy raising centre opened in Leamington Spa.

2011: National Breeding Centre opens

Guide Dogs’ national breeding centre opened 10 years ago: in 2011. They now welcome over 1,000 lifechanging guide dog puppies each year – pretty impressive when you consider the charity started with just four dogs in a lock up garage!

2013: My sighted guide

Guide dogs are amazing but they’re not the only solution for people with sight loss. In recognition of this, the My Sighted Guide service launched in 2013. The service provides trained volunteer guides to help people with impaired vision. With this support, they are able to get out and about more easily and do more of the things they love.

2017: Blind Children UK and Guide Dogs merge

When Guide Dogs merged with Blind Children UK, the charity became the UK’s largest provider of services for children with sight loss.

2020: The pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many challenges for charities around the world. Social distancing meant some of its services – such as My Sighted Guide, mobility services, dog breeding and training – had to stop temporarily.

To continue serving its users, Guide Dogs embraced technology and took as many of its services online as it could. It launched a COVID information phone line and regularly called to check in on the service users in its database, making sure those who couldn’t leave the house could get supermarket delivery slots online.

2021: Celebrating 90 years

In October 2021, the charity has been celebrating its 90th anniversary. I joined them on a short term contract to help them raise awareness of the amazing work they do by sharing the real life stories of their guide dog owners and volunteers – it’s been a brilliant project to be involved with.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team was busy with projects including:

  • the launch of a short animated film called ‘Flash’ (after one of the first guide dogs) celebrating the charity’s work over the last 90 years. The video has had more than 11 million views so far!
  • the opening of a new centre in Bristol by the charity’s patron, the Countess of Wessex
  • their anniversary garden at the Chelsea Flower Show
  • their fundraising appeal, which had a 90 theme to celebrate the 90 years
  • and more…

Beyond 2021…

I think you’ll agree that the charity has had an incredible journey over the last 90 years. But there’s so much more to do. Every day, 250 people join those already living with sight loss and that number is expected to double by 2050. Guide Dogs aims to double the number of people it supports by 2023. To help them be there for people with sight loss for another 90 years, please consider supporting their 90 year appeal.

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