Inclusive Israel And Israel Guide Dog Center
By Susan Eisenstein
This interview with Mike Levanthal of the Israel Guide Dog Center was a truly special experience - a chance to explore how one person can make a difference, while helping others in so many ways.
We can all learn something valuable from the interactions we have - with people, as well as with animals. The center is one such example of how Israel is working to foster an exemplary society for all its citizens, regardless of their ability or disability. We are all working together for a better humanity!
Could you tell us how you became involved with The Israel Guide Dog Center, where it is located in Israel, and maybe a little about its early days?
The Israel Guide Dog Center was founded by a young Israeli who had a dream of opening a guide dog school in his home country. This was 1986, and Israel did not have a school of its own. At this time, if you were blind, you needed to speak English well, and travel abroad to get a dog. The obstacles were immense.
So the young Israeli came to America to try to find a school that would train him. Every school turned him down. It’s a long story about how he eventually met my father – but he did – and my father was infected by the dream. We took on this project, helped Noach get trained, and even established a school in Beit Oved, just south of Tel Aviv.
Could you tell us where the puppies come from and a little about their training? I understand also, that puppies that may not be a good fit for their guide dog role, may go to help autistic children and children who are legally blind so that they will be comfortable with guide dogs when they are adults and may receive their own guide dogs. What qualities make a good guide dog?
We breed the dogs ourselves, and we breed for size, speed and temperament. Our clients come in all shapes and sizes, and their needs vary depending upon their lifestyles. There is no such thing as a perfect guide dog, there is just the perfect guide dog for you!
After the puppies are born, they stay with their mothers for two months. Then they are placed with volunteer “Puppy Raising Families” – mostly university students on campus. We like the kids, because they are always on the go, moving between classes, going out to restaurants, using public transportation, etc. The goal is to socialize the puppies and expose them to as many experiences as possible.
As for what makes a good guide dog? We don’t force dogs to work, they show us if they are happy or not. A good guide dog is extremely well behaved, never jumps on the furniture, or takes food from strangers. They also have been trained to work with people who are blind to take them safely from one place to another.
Keep in mind that the dogs only work outside when their harness is on. When they get to work, or home, the harness comes off, and they are just a dog.
How are dogs matched with people that need guide dogs?
We match the person’s needs with the dog that would be best suited for them. We also let our clients meet a few dogs to see if there is a good match. Very often our clients tell me that their dog picked them!
What is the training like for the person being given a guide dog? Length of time, guidance once they leave the Center, all of those details. Are guide dogs available for all Israeli citizens? I know that you are very inclusive and that there is a video about an Arab Israeli in Nazareth, training with his guide dog.
The clients and the dogs stay with us for three weeks at the Center, during which time they learn to work with and trust each other. On the first day, we begin in a small village on quiet streets and slowly work our way up to a big city like Tel Aviv. We also teach our clients to feed, groom and care for their dogs, and how to safely get into a car, bus and train. After three weeks at the center, we return with each client to their home for one week of additional training.
How long does a guide dog serve? When a guide dog retires, what is the next step for his person and for him or her?
A guide dog will work for approximately 8 years and retire when they turn 10-years-old. It is up to the client if they want to keep the retired dog and get a new dog, or give the retired dog to a friend or family member. None of our retired dogs goes unwanted. We make sure they have a happy life in retirement.
What is the cost of training a guide dog?
The true cost of a guide dog is approximately $44,000 (which is a fraction of what it costs in the USA). The breeding, raising and training of a guide dog is a very labor-intensive process.
I understand that all of the guide dogs understand Hebrew. Can you tell our readers why and maybe include some Hebrew vocabulary that is used?
The dogs learn approximately 40 Hebrew commands. It is important to teach the dogs Hebrew so the people in Israel can work with them. Many of our clients do not speak English, and our commands are easy enough for anyone to learn and use, in the right setting.
Could you please tell us about Israel becoming Inclusive Israel and how Israel Guide Dog Center is furthering this ideal? Inclusiveness has a great deal of meaning in Israel and I know that Israel is a leader in this, as in so many other things that benefit the world. It would be of much interest for our readers to hear about your organization's role in this area.
Blindness does not discriminate, and neither do we. We will provide a guide dog to anyone who lives in Israel that proves to us that the dog will help make them productive citizens. We have mostly Jewish clients, but also Christian, Muslim and Druze clients are served. The non-Jews all tell us that they want to be ambassadors in their communities to tell their friends that there are good Jews that helped them. We think it is a good thing!
How can our readers help continue and further the work of the Israel Guide Dog Center?
Please consider making a gift to the Israel Guide Dog Center, 968 Easton Rd, Warrington, PA 18976. Or call 215-343-9100 or write firstname.lastname@example.org. We are so proud of the people whose lives we change every day because of these amazing animals, and you can help us make a difference for so many others!