Photo by David Bravo

By Bianca Kapteyn

Jose` Feliciano, the hit-making virtuoso guitarist, is performing at the Fifth Annual Event of Miracles – a benefit for the Canadian Friends of Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.

An active philanthropist, Feliciano has earned the reputation as an “Ambassador of Good Will” throughout the world.  He is supporter of the work that’s being done to train guide dogs for the blind. Feliciano knows first-hand the benefits of achieving independence through the use of guide dogs. As a blind musician touring abroad, it was not easy to travel with a guide dog due to quarantine waiting periods. Eventually, he gave up using his guide dog.  The good news is, in 2012, regulations were changed for assistance dogs’ traveling to the UK from the US or Canada. The previous six-month mandatory quarantine period was reduced to 21 days. It’s still a regulatory hurdle, but it’s made things easier for many.

In a phone interview, Sara Gabriel, the executive director of the Canadian Friends of Israel Guide Dog Center For The Blind , say her involvement began five and a half years ago. She answered an ad in Canada for an Israeli organization that was looking for a free-lancer in the non-profit sector who would able work from home. It was a perfect fit.  “For me, its about passion – I love dogs.”  Gabriel describes herself as the “director who plays all of the instruments.”  Those efforts have helped the organization raise more than one million dollars since she has been at the helm in the Canadian chapter.

The oldest guide dog organization is Seeing Eye School. It was founded by Morris Frank and American dog breeder Dorothy Harrison Eustis in the early 20th century. Founded in 1991, The Israeli Guide Dog Center For The Blind is the only accredited centre in the Middle East. In Canada, The Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and Lions Foundation of Canada are organizations that provide dog guides to Canadians with disabilities.

Gabriel explains that: “99% of the dogs (in the Israeli centre) are born, raised and trained at the centre. One-third of the dogs will not make it as a guide dog. Instead, they go to companion homes or to people with post-traumatic syndrome.” The training process takes a year.  About 35 dogs graduate annually from the program. The training cost for a guide dog from birth until it leaves the centre is approximately $25,000.