Tomorrow is International Guide Dog Day – a day in which we take a moment to indulge in audible “awws” and “ahhs” as puppy photos infiltrate our social feeds. More importantly, it’s a day to raise awareness for the critical role that service dogs play in our community in assisting people who are blind, or have a vision impairment, gain the freedom and independence to move safely and confidently around their communities, and to fulfill their potential.
The responsibility of raising and training Guide Dogs falls largely to a group of non-profit organisations around the world. With as few as 37% of puppies successfully graduating from cute ball of fluff to professional service dog, and each dog costing more than $40,000 to care for and train, any improvements to that process can have a significant financial impact for the non-profit organisation, and of course a life-changing impact for the individuals who benefit from the gift of a service dog.
Like many organisations, Guiding Eyes for the Blind have been collecting data for decades in the hope that one day it would provide significant benefit – including volumes of complex genetic mapping, medical records, and journals and logs from thousands of puppy raisers, foster parents and trainers. Their hope – is that through data and insight they can lift the success rate of their guide-dog breeding program.
Professor Chris Tseng of San Jose State University, and his team of machine-learning students, are working with IBM Watson to help Guiding Eyes realise their dream. By combining both structured genetic breeding data with thousands of unstructured questionnaire documents, the study will strive to connect complex patterns and find insights into every stage of guide dog development.
Which begs the question, can insights help us uncover potential genetic patterns that infer performance? Can personality insights in both the puppy and trainer be used to find a perfect match?
Join me in watching this exciting story unfold as the team work to find answers to these questions and more. If not for the adorable puppy pictures, then at least for the heart warming stories about technology that is helping to make the world a better place.
You too can be a part of their story – donate to your local Guide Dog organisation and help raise the next generation of puppy fluff-balls turned successful service dogs.
In honor of International Guide Dog Day, here’s to the incredible puppies that dedicate their lives to improving the life of someone who is vision impaired.
Here’s to the amazing team of breeders, host families, trainers and medical staff that volunteer their time to make it happen.
Here’s to the members of our community that openly welcome and support the vision impaired as they immerse themselves in a world fundamentally designed for those with the ability to see.
And here’s to the inspirational individuals themselves, that enrich our world with compassion and determination – reminding us that the ability to see is not a prerequisite for seeing the beauty in the people around us.