National Guide Dog Month is a celebration of guide dogs throughout North America. Guide Dog Month was first inspired by our co-founder, Dick Van Patten, who was impressed by the intelligence and training of guide dogs. During a visit to a local guide dog school, he was blindfolded and experienced how guide dogs provide mobility and assistance to visually impaired and blind people. After learning about the costs, dedication and commitment to raise and train a guide dog, he was inspired to help raise awareness and support the cause.
To celebrate National Guide Dog month in 2017, Natural Balance partnered with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Since 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind has empowered lives by creating exceptional partnerships between people, dogs and communities.
Largest Guide Dog school in the country.
Dedicated to providing high quality student training services and extensive follow-up support for graduates.
Services are provided to students from the United States and Canada at no cost to them.
Operate two training facilities in San Rafael, CA and Boring, OR.
More than 2,000 volunteer puppy raisers throughout the Western states.
More than 14,000 teams have graduated since their founding.
Approximately 2,200 active guide dog teams are currently in the field.
Donate to Guide Dogs for the Blind today.
Top Human-Canine Teams Who Make Us Believe
Danelle & Aziza
At just 13 years old, Danelle Umstead was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that gradually causes blindness. Danelle was determined not to let her diagnosis keep her from doing the things she loves—especially on the ski slopes.
A self-professed adrenaline junkie, Danelle first started adaptive skiing in 2001 with her father as her guide. Today, her husband Rob is the human half of her guide team. The other half is her energetic, devoted guide dog Aziza, a five-year-old Labrador Retriever from Guide Dogs for the Blind.
When Danelle isn’t speeding downhill, she’s busy zooming through life as a wife and mother with Aziza by her side. Aziza helps Danelle navigate safely, whether they’re at the gym, crossing the street, going for a run, traveling around the world or training for the next big competition. As an elite athlete and two-time Paralympian and three-time bronze medalist, Danelle is a force to be reckoned with—and so is Aziza.
“My relationship with Aziza is truly special,” says Danelle. “There is a lot of trust, teamwork and respect required to work with a guide dog.” As an elite athlete and two-time bronze medalist in the 2010 Paralympic Games, Danelle is a force to be reckoned with—and so is Aziza.
Ashleigh & Yuri
Visually impaired since birth, Ashleigh used a cane to get around for years—but found that it became increasingly difficult to be mobile during the wintertime due to dangerous patches of ice on the pavement. These harsh winter conditions—combined with encouragement from her family—got her to consider the possibility of a guide dog.
Ashleigh grew up terrified of dogs, but as she began researching Guide Dogs for the Blind, she felt that their positive reinforcement philosophy matched her personal beliefs and values. So she took a leap of faith. When Yuri—a Guide Dogs for the Blind-trained yellow Lab—first walked into her life, Ashleigh remembers he was so excited that he couldn’t stop sneezing. Now, over two years later, they’re so connected that she can’t imagine life without him.
“Being paired with Yuri has changed my life in so many ways. In addition to being my eyes, keeping me safe, and giving me independence, he has also become my best friend—and is constantly by my side,” says Ashleigh. Without Yuri, Ashleigh may have never developed the confidence and independence needed to fulfill her dream of living and working in New York City. She is now able to navigate the city’s fast-paced subway system every day, feeling fully safe and cared for.
Bruce & Marley
Visually impaired since age 20, Bruce used a cane to get around for years— but began to consider the possibility of a guide dog when he experienced a friend moving around freely and easily with the help of her guide dog. After years of just getting by, he felt the time was right to give it a shot.
Since that moment, Bruce has had the opportunity to work with five different guide dogs—and his life is transformed. He was introduced to his current companion, Marley, through Guide Dogs for the Blind. “The strength of our bond is perhaps the engine behind the enjoyment and success I experience when out on any outing with Marley. When out on an errand, I am relaxed, confident, motivated, safe, and literally having fun,” says Bruce.
He adds, “When on a route, I feed off of Marley and what he is doing for me as much as what Marley gets from me in my praise and reinforcement of what a good boy and job he is doing—for us both, as a team. My smile on my face is coming from my heart!”
David & Parnelli
Visually impaired since age 17, David has a competitive spirit and refused to allow his loss of sight to take away his independence. Through his experiences with multiple guide dogs, David’s life has been enriched over the years.
He was introduced to his current companion, Parnelli, through Guide Dogs for the Blind. “To have the confidence to go to work or get into a situation you’re not familiar with—it would be substantially harder without him,” says David.
He adds, “I have now lived in NYC for almost 10 years, and use all of the resources available including subways, buses, taxies, and Uber to travel around to any part of the city. If I need to see clients in Philadelphia or Washington D.C on a moment’s notice, Parnelli and I navigate Penn Station, hop on the train, and go. Going blind hasn’t always been easy, but doing it without a guide dog would have been impossible.”
Maia & Fiddler
Visually impaired since birth, Maia was reluctant to even use a cane for many years, as she did not want to seem different from her peers. In college, she began using a cane, but was reluctant to use a guide dog—she was sensitive to dogs’ emotions, and felt bad that a dog would have to be put to work to help her. However, when she saw the bond others were building with their guide dogs, she was inspired to give it a try.
Maia was introduced to her current canine companion, Fiddler, through Guide Dogs for the Blind. “Working with Fiddler is a lot like having a strong dance partner. While I am the director and choreographer saying where to go and when, he is the lead,” says Maia.
She adds, “His job is to make sure I don’t crash into things or fall off of things. His importance in my life could light every window of a skyscraper. It is this deep partnership that has empowered me to travel to Europe on my own, earn a Masters of Fine Arts, perform in strange places, and put my best foot forward toward achieving my dreams.”
Maile & Jasmine
After losing her sight, Maile felt as if her life was shrinking. However, she met a woman who had a guide dog, who would become a role model and inspiration for her in living a fuller life.
Maile was introduced to her current canine companion, Jasmine, through Guide Dogs for the Blind.
“Jasmine is a superhero times three! Not only is she a wonderful companion—there’s no one in the world I’d want to spend all day everyday with except her. She also enables me to navigate any sidewalk in any city safely, gracefully, and confidently,” says Maile.
She adds, “I enjoy volunteer work, taking classes, and I’m 100% convinced that I’m as healthy as I am because it’s just so much fun to get out and meet people when you have an intelligent, gorgeous, healthy, friendly, well-behaved and, yes, perfect guide dog!”
Mary & Regina
Visually impaired since age 18, Mary used a cane to get around for years, but finally decided to discover what life could be like with a guide dog during her junior year of college. She was introduced to her current canine companion, a yellow Lab named Regina, through Guide Dogs for the Blind.
“Before I had a guide dog, the cane was more of a stigma—but with the dog, I became a people magnet rather than someone who needs to be pitied,” says Mary. Get this: One of Mary’s guide dogs was a flower dog at her wed-ding, and another attended her graduation! She has also had dogs help her when moving from place to place. Each of them have been an essential part of different important events throughout her life.
Mary adds, “My guide dog and I are a team. We travel together, make deci-sions together, and are with each other all of the time. Like any close rela-tionship, we are sensitive to each other’s needs and care about each other.”
Melissa & Camry
Being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at age three, Melissa was at risk of losing her eyesight from a very young age. In the coming years, she slowly began to realize the impact that this diagnosis would have on her. As Melissa had to sit closer and closer to the whiteboard in her college courses and could no longer see her friends waving to her across campus, things began to take a turn. As her vision continued to deteriorate, her doctor told her: “Melissa, you need to face the facts, you’re going blind.” She was just 27 years old.
The hardest step after hearing this shocking news was accepting the use of a cane to help Melissa get around. When she finally accepted her new reality, Melissa was ready for the chance to bring her old self back—and her first step was to apply to Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Now on her third guide dog—a beautiful black labrador named Camry—Melissa is an entirely different person. She says that with Camry, her “invisibility clock has been lifted.” Her independence and mobility have been enhanced, and new-found freedom shines through her countless adventures with Camry. The two have traveled to three continents, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Even more importantly, through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, Camry is always by Melissa’s side. From navigating through the chaotic streets of Los Angeles to dodging skateboarders, Camry and Melissa tackle each new obstacle like professionals. Together, the two are ready to conquer the world.
Michelle & Oscar
Born with glaucoma, Michelle spent a big part of her young life unable to navigate the world around her. Later, when Michelle became more mobile, it came with its fair share of bumps and bruises. Lacking depth perception, she lived in a constant state of discomfort and found it increasingly difficult to get around.
Around the same time that she started her undergraduate degree in psychology, Michelle made the split second decision to apply for Guide Dogs for the Blind program, and she has never looked back. From the get go, Michelle knew that the program had done a marvelous job in matching her with her beautiful golden guide dog Oscar—they immediately fell into step with each other, and within two months knew they had a lifelong partnership.
Even more surprising was the sheer number of people who approached Michelle on the first day of the new semester. The questions on everyone’s lips were: “Who is your furry friend?”, “Where can I get one?”, and of course “Can I pet him?” With this positive attention, the pair was able to walk with confidence everyday—whether it be on a small grocery shopping trip or a longer trip to visit Michelle’s sister in Los Angeles. Together, the two tackle intense psychology and jiu jitsu classes, but always leave room for playtime. Michelle and Oscar are primed to tackle deadlines and take the mental health field by storm.
Tom & Dynamo
After months of seeing Tom come home from his daily walks with strange bruises, his wife decided to apply to Guide Dogs for the Blind on his behalf. Before he knew it, Tom was headed to San Rafael, California to meet his future soulmate—Dynamo, a professional guide dog. “I’ve had four great gifts in my life: my wife, my two kids, and Dynamo,” says Tom. A superhero guide dog and a superhuman athlete, Dynamo and Tom spent their days training and securing their bond for two intensive weeks. They have never looked back.
With Dynamo never more than 20 feet away, Tom can listen to the birds sing and feel the wind in his hair without worrying about his safety. The added mental calm that Dynamo gives Tom, and the support and positive reinforcement that Tom gives Dynamo, have helped the two complete a half-marathon together, raising $6,000 for charity. With no signs of slowing down, the two are now planning to hike up Mount Rainier and travel the country— speaking as ambassadors for Guide Dogs for the Blind.