The History of IGDF

The idea of the International Federation of Guide Dog Schools for the Blind (IFGDSB) – as it was originally known – stems from conferences held in France (1973) and London (1976). At the conclusion of the third international conference in Vienna in 1983, attendees agreed the formation of a European-based group to consider “the formulation of guidelines and standards for the training of dogs and to teach blind people the use of dogs”. The meeting agreed that the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Centre would consolidate the work of a working group consisting of representatives from the UK, Holland, France, Scandinavia and Switzerland and that other guide dog schools could be invited to participate.

Margaret Freeman and John Byfield at the 2008 London Conference.
Breeding Conference in Paris 2012

This led to a meeting at Leamington in September 1986 at which 28 delegates from 15 schools and 10 countries considered the papers prepared by the Vienna working group. Following discussion, the document was rewritten and ratified by delegates. The next task of the Vienna working group was to draft proposals for the establishment of an international organisation. These proposals were considered in October 1987 at a conference attended by guide dog organisations worldwide and were discussed with solicitors on 5th October 1987.

In April 1988, another international conference was held, attended by 40 delegates from 16 countries, representing 25 guide dog organisations. At the end of the two day debate, delegates from all schools signed a document prepared by solicitors, forming an unincorporated association known as “The International Provisional Council for Guide Dog Schools for the Blind”. They appointed an executive body consisting of members of the original 1983 Vienna working group. The new Council, comprising five Chief Executive Officers from countries in Europe, was empowered to do such work as was needed to bring into being a new organisation called “The International Federation of Guide Dog Schools for the Blind” (“IFGDSB”).

IGDF Board and Assessors Switzerland 2004

The Council then worked with solicitors to draft the Memorandum and Articles of Association establishing the IFGDSB as a registered company in the United Kingdom – legal documents that were ratified on 12th April 1989. The new organisation was created to focus upon:

  • access
  • animal breeding, care and veterinary matters
  • funding opportunities
  • staff selection and training
  • student selection and training

This decision to found it was taken by these original schools in order to meet the growing demand of guide dog organisations, looking for an international federation that would recognise, and unite, all other similar guide dog service providers around the world. This new organisation was therefore set up:

  • to allow the organisations to communicate with each other
  • to exchange information and experience in the area of breeding, training, handling and assessing the dogs
  • to act as a body which would offer advice to its individual members
Group photo outdoors at IGDF summit in Japan 2014.

In 1992, inspection of member schools began. Schools were accredited by an agreed list of assessors within agreed operational guidelines. A newsletter was also initiated. By 1996, the Federation had 45 members and a seminar on dog breeding and genetics was held.

By 2000, there were 61 international members, the Assessment Committee became the Accreditation Committee and Products, Training and Research Working Groups were formed. By now, seminars were an important biennial event, bringing members together from across the world. In 2001, attempts were made to increase fundraising and in 2002, a member survey was conducted.

Previous Chairs of the IGDF

Since IGDF began the following people have all been the IGDF Chair person:

William Thornton of BC & Alberta Guide Dogs, Canada
2020 – present

Paul Metcalf of Guide Dogs Victoria, Australia
2016 to 2020

James Kutsch of The Seeing Eye Inc, USA
2014 to 2016

Jane Thornton of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, Canada
2010 to 2014

Bridget Warr of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, UK
2006 to 2010

Ken Rosenthal of The Seeing Eye Inc, USA
2002 to 2006

Ken Lord of South African Guide Dogs Association for the Blind, South Africa
1997 to 2002

Julian Oxley of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, UK
1990 to 1997

John Groom of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, UK
1986 to 1990