As many of you are aware, graduates of several guide dog training programs are concerned because of recent, significant changes that some of those programs have made to their training departments and to field services. To date, I have been contacted by several guide dog trainers who are extremely appreciative of GDUI's letter. They have thanked us for drafting and circulating the letter, saying that they believe it is having a positive impact.
On May 7, 2013, GDUI sent out a letter to the leadership of each U.S. guide dog training program. The text of that letter is pasted below.
May 7, 2013
Dear Guide Dog Training Program Leadership and all who support high-quality guide dog training:
Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI), the largest organization of guide dog consumers in the United States, supports and appreciates the guide dog programs that train our guides and we are invested in their future success. This is why we, officers of GDUI, are writing on behalf of our concerned members to ask U.S. guide dog training programs to give the highest priority to recognizing and retaining the service of committed, professional guide dog trainers. We are deeply concerned by recent, apparent, large cuts in experienced staff at some major guide dog training programs. The expertise of committed, professional guide dog trainers is essential to both guide dog handler-consumers and the schools that exist to provide high-quality guide dog training. We believe that it is in the best interest of the schools to recruit, as well as retain and reward the expert trainers who have made a career commitment to this profession. Please share our letter widely among your staff and directors.
We are concerned for the future of U.S. guide dog training when there is a perceived lack of employment security for experienced guide dog trainers. GDUI urges every guide dog school administrator to please take action to protect and safeguard the careers of these specialized professionals who literally make guide dog training programs possible. If a guide dog school fails to retain committed, expert trainers, doing so suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of the needs of guide dog users and reflects questionable business decision-making.
Experienced guide dog trainers provide immediate, direct service to the consumers that a school serves. Moreover, if a school demonstrates commitment to its dedicated expert trainers, it motivates and encourages confidence in younger trainers as they make their career decisions. Conversely, a school's failure to reward its committed guide dog trainers with job security shakes the morale of its remaining trainers, discouraging newer hires from placing confidence in a guide dog training career and discouraging consumers' confidence in that school. The reputation of a school among consumers and other experts who might recommend that school depends on the actions the school takes with respect to this reality.
GDUI members believe that it is critical that guide dog training programs support trainers not only because these dedicated individuals deserve it, but because the quality of the guides and training which a school provides depends on the existence of a stable and secure career path for guide dog trainers. These highly motivated professionals, through their many years of practical experience, have acquired invaluable expertise both in training dogs and in understanding the unique needs of those of us who are visually impaired. The demands of the job are physically and emotionally rigorous. It is primarily these uniquely experienced and qualified trainers who ensure the reputation and future of the guide dog training programs.
GDUI members gladly contribute in many ways to the programs that have trained our guides. We promote our schools, recommending them to others, and by example, working effectively with our guides in all of our day-to-day business. GDUI members also support guide dog schools by donating funds and by our efforts in soliciting donations for the schools. GDUI members have been shocked and distressed to learn of extremely effective mid-career guide dog trainers who find themselves casualties of the business decisions of their employers, and view this as a school's lack of commitment to the consumers that the school serves through its trainers. This is an extremely important issue for us.
GDUI supports the women and men who have devoted their lives and talents to guide dog training because they contribute significantly and uniquely to the quality of our lives. The future of guide dog training programs depends on the expertise of these specialized trainers and the expertise that the next generation of trainers can gain through working with these trainers. Experienced guide dog trainers play a vital role in the reputation and very existence of each and every guide dog training program. This matter is of utmost importance to all of us — guide dog schools and consumers alike. GDUI urges guide dog schools to take tangible action to retain the service of these specialized professionals and to safeguard their employment.
Laurie Mehta, President
Guide Dog Users, Inc.
Mary Beth Randall, GDUI First Vice President
Charles Crawford, GDUI Second Vice President and Advocacy Chairman
Sarah Calhoun, GDUI Secretary
Mary Beth Metzger, GDUI Constitution Resolutions Chair and board member
Dianne B. Phelps, GDUI Special Concerns Co-chair and board member
Paula Barton, GDUI Special Concerns Co-chair and Office Manager