M parents of blind and visually impaired children have heard about the amazing work of guide dogs. They know that these dogs are wonderfully trained animals that help their blind owners navigate their surroundings every day. The question they often ask is how to get a guide dog in the hands of their own blind child. The answer is not a simple one. In fact, there are multiple factors to look at.
Most American guide dog schools only accept applicants as young as sixteen years old, though occasionally exceptions are made. This is to guarantee that the applicant is responsible enough to handle their dog’s needs and to act appropriately with the dog in public situations. There is however, a school that will work the applicants as young as eleven years old. They are called title: Mira USA Foundation url: https://www.mirausa.org located in North Carolina. They evaluate applicants from the ages of eleven to seventeen, and if the children are accepted, they pay for then to fly to the Mira Foundation in Canada to receive their dogs. This program isn’t for everyone though. The children must have solid orientation and mobility skills to be excepted into this program or any other guide dog program in the country.
Another factor to consider is family readiness. Is the family ready to have a dog in the house twenty four hours a day seven days a week? Can the family handle the financial responsibilities such as food and vet care associated with a dog? Can the family step back and let the handler be the primary handler and caretaker of the dog? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, but the child is not ready to work with a guide dog, it’s worth considering adopting a pet from your local animal shelter or working with one of the guide dog schools that offers a program for kids. title: Guide Dogs for the Blind url: https://www.guidedogs.com/get-a-guide-dog/youth-programs/k9-buddies and title: Guiding Eyes for the Blind url: https://www.guidingeyes.org/youth-program-announcement/ have programs specifically for this purpose. They take the dogs from their stock that aren’t good guide dogs but that would make great pet dogs and adopt them out to families with visually impaired and blind children so the children can learn the responsibilities of caring for a dog before making the decision to get their own guide. This is a great way for future guide dog handlers to make a better informed decision on if a guide dog is right for them. Again, I must stress, this requires full family support, but the child must be the main caretaker of the dog. This means they are expected to feed, water, relieve, and groom the dog though family members can assist some as needed especially for very young children. It is also important to know that even though these dogs come from a guide dog school, they’re still just pets so may not be taken to places that don’t allow pets. Having said that, the child still can have plenty of opportunity to walk their companion.
Finally, the child has to be the one to decide they want a guide dog. If they are unable to participate in one of the programs mentioned above, they may be interested in doing a summer camp program as a teen where they can learn more about guide dogs. Title: Leader Dogs for the Blind, Url: https://www.leaderdog.org/programs/summer-experience-camp/ and Title: Guide Dogs For the Blind url: https://www.guidedogs.com/get-a-guide-dog/youth-programs/camp-gdb offer week long summer camps for teens to expand their orientation and mobility skills and learn more about guide dogs. They will get the chance to experience walking with a guide dog and take part in the care taking requirements of the dog. This experience can help the child understand more about the guide dog lifestyle and guide them toward making an informed choice on whether a guide dog is right for their life. Future handlers can also learn more by discussing guide dogs with their orientation and mobility instructors and talking to current guide dog handlers.
In conclusion, there is not a correct answer to whether a child should or should not get a guide dog. With the right tools and information they can be equipped to make the best choice for their specific situation and for that of their family.