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Associations call for more guide dog host families

09:08 01/02/2024

With blind or visually impaired people having to wait up to five years to get a guide dog, it is essential that more families come forward to host and train these animals, guide dog schools are warning.

At the moment, “as we lack host families, we are not sure we can buy enough puppies to train and place enough dogs in the next two years”, said Jessica Pigott, guide dog educator at the Hoeilaart-based asbl Scale Dogs.

“Therefore, we are really in need of these families to fill this gap, so we too can do our work.”

She told RTBF that one dog she trains, Vedi, has to manage all situations, even unplanned.

“There are many distractions, many people. It is also very important that Vedi learns to use public transport as our customers need this.”

In the next six months, Vedi will learn more than 20 commands. Once fully trained, he will give a new lease of life to his future owner, but to do this he needs a host family.

The fact that these families will eventually need to say goodbye to their four-legged friends can deter potential volunteers. One host, Karine Hénin and her family, is prepared.

"From the start, I knew that he was not my dog, I know why I am doing this. Dogs that can help people, I find that amazing," she told RTBF.

The puppy, when he is little, needs to learn, to be calm, and to have a structured life. If you put him in a kennel, that would not be possible, he would not be socialised enough.”

After 18 months, Wilson, who was welcomed by Karine’s family at just two months old, with all his costs taken care of by the dog training school, is ready to start his guide dog training. He will then be given, free of charge, to a beneficiary.

Guide dogs are essential, not only for the autonomy of their blind or partially sighted owner, but also to allow them to find work and so enter society, said Harry Viaene, who has been the owner of Scott for three years.

"My guide dog gives me more freedom, more possibility to get about everywhere, and above all more autonomy. He really is my eyes.

"He gives me the chance to do whatever I want. So it is absolutely essential that people sign up to become host families of dogs like Scott."

Anyone looking to host guide dogs in Belgium can contact a range of associations including Scale Dogs, the Fondation I See, the Tongeren-based Belgian Centre for Guide Dogs, part of the International Guide Dog Federation and the Liège-based asbl for guide dog training Entrevues.

Photo: Bruno Fahy/Belga

Written by Liz Newmark