Have you ever imagined what it’s like for someone who is blind to travel through life with a guide dog?
For an upcoming episode of “Cesar Millan’s Dog Nation,” Cesar and Andre visited with Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation in Washington, D.C. In addition to meeting with the organization’s President and learning more about what they do, Andre got to do just that when he went on a blindfold walk through Alexandria, Virginia.
Jaslyn Scribner, Fidelco’s Brand Marketing and Media Manager, was kind enough to talk about the experience with us and tell us more about the group.
What does your organization do?
We change lives. Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation partners exceptional men and women who are blind with its elite German shepherd guide dogs, providing all clients with increased independence to improve their lives and the world around them.
Each Fidelco German shepherd guide dog takes two years, 15,000 hours, and $45,000 to breed, train, and place. Thanks to the compassionate generosity of its donors, and the dedicated work of its staff and volunteers, all Fidelco guide dogs are given to clients at no cost.
How did your organization get started?
With love and respect for the working German shepherd Dog breed, recognizing its inherent qualities to work as guide dogs: intelligence, temperament, stamina, and desire to work.
Initially, the Fidelity Breeders Cooperative bred German shepherd Dogs and donated them to other guide dog training organizations. In 1981, the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation became a training organization and placed five of its elite quality “breed within a breed” German shepherd guide dogs with men and women who were blind.
Fidelco also introduced In-Community Placement® into the United States to benefit all clients and ensure team success. Both continue to serve as the hallmarks of our organization with almost 1,500 guide dog teams places across North America. In 2010, Fidelco introduced 24/7/365 client services along with annual wellness and safety follow-up training visits with every client team.
In what ways do the dogs help blind veterans?
Specific to the veteran community, Fidelco provides guide dogs to blinded military and veterans, as well as first responders and their immediate family members.
Fidelco guide dogs provide increased independence to men and women who are blind — our clients educate, create documentary films, work in business and government, raise families, and advocate for the visually impaired. Some have even climbed Mt. Everest, won gold medals as world class athletes, and served America in the military.
Fidelco guide dogs are responsible for the clients’ safety at all times — whether it is down a busy street, on a train, plane, or inside a building, Fidelco guide dogs safely navigate the client to their destination. Our elite quality German shepherd guide dogs are trained to believe they are 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide to surveil areas above and around the client — ensuring the utmost protection.
And, of course, Fidelco guide dogs also provide a loving companionship to our clients.
What is the process for veterans who are seeking a guide dog?
- The prospective client completes an application for a Fidelco guide dog.
- The application goes through a very thorough selection process that includes a personal interview, review of medical history, personal and professional references, and meetings with family members.
- Upon acceptance from the selection committee, the client is matched with a guide dog based on many factors including speed, pacing, stride, etc. of the individual and the dog.
- Fidelco’s professional training staff delivers our guide dogs to the clients and works for two to three weeks with the new team training the guide dog and the client together. Our pioneered In-Community Placement® process creates a bond from the first meeting, and, conveniently, the client trains with their new Fidelco guide dog in the community where they live and work.
Why do you work with German shepherds? Can you share about what sets Fidelco German shepherds apart?
Fidelco’s elite quality guide dogs are intelligent, attentive, reliable, and courageous — everything required of the best guide dogs. To ensure our clients’ well-being and team’s successes, Fidelco elevated these characteristics by creating its own breed-within-a-breed of guide dogs.
Fidelco has been selectively breeding from strong German shepherd bloodlines for over five decades, ensuring exceptional intelligence, stamina, and temperament. Globally recognized for their unwavering loyalty and resolve, Fidelco German shepherd Guide Dogs are the hallmark of our organization and the rock in our clients’ lives.
Fidelco German shepherds possess the characteristics of the ideal working guide; intelligence, temperament, stamina, and stability. Given our dogs’ healthy, energetic nature, they require a partner that also maintains an active lifestyle.
Fidelco guide dogs serve as working guide dog partners for an average of 10 years, which is about 4 years longer than the average guide dog partnership.
In many areas of the country, German shepherds are considered a “dangerous dog”. Why do you think the breed gets a bad rap? What are some common misconceptions about them?
By their nature, dogs are pack animals. In most cases, dogs deemed to be “dangerous” have been mistreated by their humans. In our world, there’s no reason for dangerous dogs other than dangerous humans who treat dogs poorly, typically resulting in poor behavior.
The German shepherd Dog was created to work. Historically, German shepherds were created to work as a herding dog, requiring intelligence, temperament, great stamina, and desire to work and herd around 300 to 500 sheep. Their inherent working nature requires a specific job to perform; without the proper job to do, boredom can set in.
We’re proud to work exclusively with the German shepherd Dog breed – most other dog breeds can only do one job (such as using its nose). There are many careers that German shepherd Dogs are suitable for; including guide work, law enforcement, military working dog, bomb detection, PTSD, search and rescue, and even an exceptional family pet.
Many people mistake intimidation for observation – German shepherd Dogs are incredibly attentive, vigilant, and intelligent by nature; a strong, confident breed, no doubt.
What was it like having Cesar and Andre visit your group for Dog Nation?
One of the most important subjects that we shared with Cesar and Andre was how to appropriately react when a pet dog encounters a working guide dog.
Interfering with guide dog work can compromise the safety of our clients and their guide dogs, or worse! We believe that it’s an imperative lesson to teach the public. Having that “lesson” on Dog Nation will go a long way towards keeping our guide dog partners and the public safe, so we appreciated the opportunity to share it.
We enjoyed sharing with Cesar and Andre the guide dog principle of “trust the dog” by having Andre take a blindfolded walk – teaching them the unique characteristics of the Fidelco-bred German shepherd Dog, and how we match our clients with their guide dog partners.
Overall, appearing on Dog Nation is an exceptional opportunity for Fidelco to educate the public about the service our organization provides to men and women who are blind, and to share our life-changing guide dog mission.
If you want to learn more about Fidelco and what you can do to support their organization, head over to Fidelco.org. You can read about the work they do and donate right from the webpage. And don’t forget to watch Dog Nation on April 21st at 9:00p.m./8 Central on Nat Geo WILD so you can see Fidelco guide dogs in action for yourself!