The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind provides guide, PTSD and service dogs to help improve the quality of life of visually impaired Israelis. Their dogs are trained in Hebrew to better meet needs in Israel’s challenging environment. We spoke with Atarah Derrick, Executive Director of the Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center to learn more about their mission, challenges, where we can find them, and so on.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is dedicated to improving the quality of life of visually impaired and blind Israelis. We provide them with mobility, independence, self-confidence, and companionship through the faithful assistance of guide dogs specially trained in Hebrew to meet Israel’s rigorous and challenging environment. The Israel Guide Dog Center has also begun training service dogs to help army veterans and soldiers suffering from the devastating effects of trauma. The Israel Guide Dog Center is the only internationally accredited guide dog training centre in Israel, helping those living with blindness and PTSD.
What problem does it aim to solve?
Partnering with a guide dog enables a blind or visually impaired person to have far more freedom of movement and independence than they would be using a white cane or depending on family members or friends. Guide dogs not only lead their “Partners” effectively and safely from one place to another but provide love and companionship.
PTSD service dogs are incredibly gifted animals and can significantly alleviate the frequency and severity of trauma symptoms.
When did you start/join it?
I joined the staff in 2021.
What made you want to get involved?
I immediately connected to the work of the Center as a place providing hope and confidence to people who might otherwise struggle in their day-to-day lives. I’m also a dog-lover with very poor eyesight who has spent the past fifteen years working for charitable organizations. Spending my days providing opportunities for people with vision loss and emotional challenges is immensely rewarding.
What was the situation like when you started?
Until 1991, Israelis had to receive special permission from the Ministry of Welfare to be entitled to go overseas and receive a guide dog – but only if they spoke English.
Generally, they travelled to the United States for weeks to partner with a guide dog. They were instructed in a language that was not their everyday language of communication. Many misunderstood crucial information about how to care for their dog, manage challenges and more.
When they returned to Israel, the dogs were not used to Israeli streets and traffic and took commands in English. There was no aftercare support, which provides training and assistance for those few returning with a guide dog, which is critical for the partnership’s success. All this made it very challenging for Israelis to partner successfully with guide dogs until the Center was established more than 30 years ago.
I am lucky to have joined an organization that is 30 years strong in Israel. Our fundraising arm here in Canada is a little younger, established in 2004.
How has it changed since?
Since starting all those years ago, we’ve partnered more than 750 dogs with people with vision loss, have provided emotional support dogs to more than 400 people, and have bred over 2,000 beautiful puppies. Over our 30 years, we have changed thousands of lives and been there for every client.
What more needs to be done?
We have a waitlist of blind and visually impaired clients who need guide dogs, PTSD service dogs and families with special needs who would like to receive emotional support dogs. We’re always trying to meet their needs while ensuring that we adhere to our stringent and high standards for training. Clients can wait up to a year to be partnered with a dog.
Our goal is to cut their wait time down and to increase the success rate of our puppies becoming guide dogs.
How can our readers help?
Support our clients and dogs by making a gift to the Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center! They can send a card to a loved one or donate in tribute or memory. Find out more on our website.
Do you have any events coming up?
We’re planning events for the fall and spring and will be bringing one of our clients and their guide dog for school tours soon. Check us out on our website.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity/non-profit that you love?
There is no end to incredible work being done locally. Eva’s Initiatives and Ve’ahavta do fantastic work with at-risk youth and those struggling with homelessness.