Since their inception in 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind has trained world-class service dogs to aid individuals who are blind and visually impaired across North America. Guide dogs are provided at no cost to the individual after graduating from an intensive training program, which starts with socialization within days of birth. Guide dogs provide blind and visually impaired individuals a level of freedom and security they might not otherwise achieve. Guide dogs are trained to help their handlers to maneuver around obstacles, and can be key in avoiding potentially harmful situations. As such, the program selects their dogs very carefully. Dogs that begin training but don’t meet Guide Dogs for the Blind’s high standards are “career changed”. Some of these career change dogs are trained to participate in other meaningful services including medical alert, search and rescue, therapy work, and hearing dog programs.

Potential Guide dogs have been bred through a specialized program to ensure a high success rate for trainees. The sires and dams in the breeding program must have the correct temperament, a strong desire to please, and pass rigorous physical examination. These dogs are raised in the homes of volunteer “Breeding Stock Custodians” living within 50 miles of the San Rafael, California campus.

Dr. Wood has provided low-cost examinations to these invaluable service dogs for the last 15 years. An examination by a board certified cardiologist rules out congenital (present at birth) heart conditions, which are passed on genetically. Additionally the echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, allows Dr. Wood to evaluate the size and function of each heart valve and chamber. Common conditions we screen for include Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Mitral or Tricuspid Valve Regurgitation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Labrador patiently lets Dr. Wood take his heart measurements.

Here at Cardiology Northwest we have the pleasure of examining 4 to 8 dogs per month, and enjoy our appointments with these gorgeous, young Labrador and Golden Retrievers. Dr. Wood estimates he has examined approximately 1,000 of these potential service dogs. The dogs we examine are at the end of their Puppy Raising period (1-2 years old), and preparing to enter either formal training or the breeding program. The dogs we have seen have already passed exams from several veterinarians including an eye specialist and a joint specialist. Each screening echo takes 15-20 minutes and lets us make an informed recommendation for which dogs can be safely admitted into the breeding program.

Due to the genetic aspect of many heart conditions, routine cardiac examination should be a part of every responsible breeding program. Cardiology Northwest is a proud partner to Guide Dogs for the Blind, and takes great pleasure in providing top-notch cardiac screenings to their breeding program. As a nonprofit organization, Guide Dogs for the Blind runs exclusively on private donations and the generosity of over 3,000 volunteers. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help Guide Dogs for the Blind achieve their mission, please visit their website, or contact their office at (503) 668-2100.