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Schools for guide dogs struggling

Canadian schools that train guide dogs for the blind are feeling theeffects of the global recession — a downturn experts fear could end upscuttling precious growth in a charitable industry that has onlyrecently gained traction north of the border.

Canadian schools that train guide dogs for the blind are feeling the effects of the global recession — a downturn experts fear could end up scuttling precious growth in a charitable industry that has only recently gained traction north of the border.

Canada’s guide-dog schools are unlike their more established, better-known cousins in the U.S., where a higher profile and more solid financial footing allows them to raise more money and match more dog teams in one year than all four of the internationally accredited Canadian schools combined.

Like most of their North American counterparts, Canadian schools fund their costly programs exclusively through charitable donations, which have declined in recent months — especially in the corporate category as businesses re-evaluate their spending priorities.

While donations from loyal individuals remain strong, top officials at Canadian guide dog schools fear the lag could slow their momentum, which had been growing prior to the economic downturn.

“There are schools that are struggling now, the smaller schools particularly,” said Sandy Turney, director of Guide Dogs Canada in Oakville, Ont.

“We have different sources of funds, but it’s a tough go for people … I think in Canada we really were on a good growth path. It’s just whether we can keep it up across the country.”

Canada has four organizations, including Guide Dogs Canada, that have since won accreditation from the International Guide Dog Federation and have similar credentials to schools that have been established for decades.

Newer schools faced the dual challenge of building a client base and attracting donations for their services, which are expensive.

The philosophy is to ensure cost doesn’t prevent blind people from getting a guide dog, which is why the schools provide their services free of charge or for a nominal fee — the cost of a guide dog starts at $20,000.

 
 
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