Bill Thornton sitting and holding a golden retriever puppy.

William (Bill) Thornton (Chair)

Chief Executive Officer
BC & Alberta Guide Dogs, Canada

Bill Thornton is a devoted Guide and Service Dog provider and proven advocate for those with disabilities. His interest in dog training began when he first trained dogs as an Officer with the National Police Force of Rhodesia. An encounter with Guide Dogs for the Blind, UK on a trip in 1977 inspired his apprenticeship and training as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor.

Following a move to Ottawa, Canada in 1984, Bill founded Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and served as President / CEO until 1996. A need for Guide Dogs in British Columbia inspired Bill to co-found BC Guide Dogs, the province’s first Guide Dog School for the Blind.

A passion to help more of Western Canada led to the expansion of the organization to Alberta in 2002. Seeing also a great need of Service Dogs for children with profound autism and their families, Bill founded Autism Support Dogs in 2008 and served as Chair of that organization until it amalgamated with BC Guide Dogs in 2014.

Bill has utilized his leadership qualities to contribute on a global scale. From 1986 to 1989, Bill participated in the development of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF). Since then, he has taken on many responsibilities with the Federation and has served on accreditation, finance and communications committees; as well as undertaken the role of International Assessor, completing 28 accreditations in 13 different countries. Bill has been appointed to the IGDF Board of Directors from 1990-1996, 1998-2006, and again in 2019 (serving currently). In partnership with Paul Keymer, Bill and Paul co-founded the IGDF “Derek Freeman Scholarship”, which has awarded 23 scholarships since 2006.

He has been a mentor and advisor for many Guide & Assistance Dog schools. In particular, Bill worked alongside Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs (VICD) as it formed in 2013 to ensure that PTSD Service Dogs were provided to Canadian Veterans living with Post Traumatic Stress. VICD has since amalgamated with BC Guide Dogs and together they have expanded their mandate to include assistance for First Responders living with Operational Stress Injuries.

Bill’s career reflects a lifelong commitment to providing life-changing dogs to those in need. His achievements were recognized with the IGDF’s “Ken Lord Award” in 2006. His dedication continues as he guides his organization through expansion and growth, and as he contributes his knowledge and experience to other training schools and like-minded organizations around the world.

Christine Turc standing and smiling, holding a yellow labrador puppy.

Christine Turc (Vice Chair)

Chief Executive Officer
Les Chiens Guides d’Aveugles de L’ouest, France

Christine TURC joined les Chiens Guides d’Aveugles de l’Ouest in July 1995 as Administrative Manager and then became Communication and Fundraising Manager in 2001.

Before entering the guide dog field, Christine managed a temporary workers agency for 5 years in Angers, after 5 years in charge of international statistical studies for the pharmaceutical industry in Paris.

Christine is now Director and CEO for the guide dog school, from the 1st of July 2014, in charge of supervising all activities in the guide dog school from communication and fundraising to breeding, puppy raising and guide dog education and strategic development with the Board.

Christine graduated from a French management school and fluently speaks French, English and Spanish.

She was elected to the IGDF Board at the 2014 Seminar in Tokyo.

Karen Hayes with her arm around a yellow lab.

Karen Hayes (Treasurer)

Chief Executive Officer Guide Dogs Victoria, Australia

Karen Hayes is recognised as a dynamic influencer in the Australian Not-for-Profit sector. Since November 2011 she has been the CEO of the Victorian Division of Guide Dogs Australia, which is currently Australia’s “Most Trusted Charity,” for the 7th year in a row.

A past Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award finalist, Karen is currently a Board member of Multiple Sclerosis Ltd (6 years), The Melbourne International Comedy Festival (6 years) and a past board member of Vision 2020 Australia, (5 years) Melbourne Football Cub (7 years) and Breast Cancer Network Australia (15 years).

Karen was one of the founders of Breast Cancer Network Australia, and as the co-founder of the Australian chapter of the International Women’s Forum (IWF), she continues to play a leadership role for women across a number of industries and communities globally.

Prior to joining Guide Dogs, Karen enjoyed an exemplary career in the Professional Services sector including as Director, Corporate Engagement and Human Capital with UXC Limited and CEO of Planpower, a major Project Management organisation.

Under Karen’s leadership, Guide Dogs Victoria has delivered a $27m capital campaign to transform GDV’s campus into Australia’s first sensory campus. The new facilities are aimed at improving the lives of people living with blindness or low vision, while also providing a world class environment for breeding and training guide dogs and educating the community.

Karen was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2017, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to business and the community and was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours List, for significant service to the community as an advocate for gender equity, and to women in sport. She was also inducted as a Dame in the Order of St John in June 2019, in recognition of her contribution to community.

Christine Baroni Pretsch with a yellow lab puppy and adult golden retriever.

Christine Baroni-Pretsch

Chief Executive Officer Foundation Romande pour Chiens Guides d’Aveugles, Switzerland

Christine Baroni-Pretsch started her guide dog career in 1988 as a GDMI apprentice in the German speaking part of Switzerland. She is the founder and current CEO of Foundation Romande pour Chiens Guides d’Aveugles which currently has two training centres in the French and Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

Christine is particularly interested in breeding better guide dogs and founded the European Breeding Network in 2007.

Working together, sharing and learning from each other is something which is really important to her. She was elected to the IGDF Board in 2004 and has been active in various positions, including vice-chair until 2012. Currently she is an IGDF assessor and has previously served as the board-elected chair of the Accreditation Committee from 2012 until 2016.

Christine feels passionate about helping blind and partially sighted people to build effective partnerships with excellent guide dogs. Working with these teams is incredibly inspiring.

She was co-opted to the IGDF Board in October 2019, and appointed by the membership for a term of four years at the AGM in September 2020.

Christine Benninger

Christine Benninger

President & CEO
Guide Dogs for the Blind, USA

Christine (Chris) joined Guide Dogs for the Blind in April of 2014. Chris brings a wealth of non-profit and for-profit experience to her role. Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) is the largest guide school in the United States and the second largest in the world. Chris manages a yearly budget of $54M, 300 employees and two campuses … one in San Rafael, California and a second campus in Boring, Oregon.

Under Chris’ leadership, Guide Dogs for the Blind has expanded its program offerings to include Orientation and Mobility training for individuals with insufficient skills to qualify for guide dog training, a companion dog program for visually-impaired children and advocacy in support of GDB’s visually-impaired communities. In addition, annual fundraising has tripled since 2014 and a new state-of-the-art Puppy Center has been built. Current organization-wide initiatives include Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as full accessibility throughout GDB and its communication channels.

Prior to joining GDB, she spent 17 years leading the Humane Society Silicon Valley. During her tenure there, she and her team’s progressive approach helped save the lives of tens of thousands of animals and greatly reduced pet overpopulation problems in Santa Clara County. Under her leadership, the organization was also able to raise $25.5 million to build The Animal Community Center — the first facility of its kind in the country. 

Chris honed her business skills as an auditor with Arthur Andersen & Co. as well as in her 15 years with Hewlett Packard Corporation. At HP, Chris held managerial positions in the U.S. as well as in Europe. She holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University. 

Chris was elected to the IGDF board at the 2021 IGDF AGM.

Tim Stafford outdoors smiling at the camera.

Tim Stafford

Director of Canine Affairs The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, UK

Tim has worked for Guide Dogs since 1985, qualifying as a guide dog mobility instructor in 1989, progressing through a succession of operational management roles before being appointed Director of Canine Assisted Services in 2014. Tim has led a senior team to deliver strategic change projects including a complete re-design of puppy development, dog training and client instruction programmes.

Tim was appointed Director of Canine Affairs in 2020 and now leads on engagement activities with national and international canine/ assistance dog sector partners, seeking to identify opportunities for closer cooperation, such as in the creation of international standards. Tim has a keen interest in progressive dog training, ethics, welfare and the human-animal bond. He has a BSc (Hons) in Applied Animal Behaviour and is currently studying for a MA in Anthrozoology.

Tim has served on the Accreditation Committee and Development Committee and was elected to the Board of Directors in 2018. Tim is also a Board Director of Assistance Dogs (UK). Tim lives in the South of England and enjoys long country walks with his wife and two dogs.

Seishi Tanoue

Board Director
Japan Guide Dog Association, Japan

Japan Guide Dog Association (JGDA), Japan’s largest Guide Dog Organization, provides not only guide dogs but other integrated rehabilitation-related services to vision impaired people throughout Japan. Seishi has been a board member of JGDA for seven years, eagerly learning about the needs of people with vision impairment in Japanese society and the key factors of breeding, raising and training of high-quality guide dogs to meet and exceed the requirements of Japanese Guide Dog Users.

Along with his role at JGDA, Seishi is currently a corporate auditor of the largest textbook publishing company in Japan. Founded in 1909, its mission is to nurture future citizens of Japan through publishing textbooks of a higher calibre. He is a Certified Internal Auditor, and has been in management positions in the printing industry for 27 years.

His passion for track and field began in college and he is now a vice president of Japan Masters Athletics. They have over 10,000 members aged from 35 to 100+ and he enjoys meeting with the members and staying physically active. He participated in the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon twice each and has completed about 60 full marathons to date.

The Japan Guide Dog Association was founded in 1967 in Tokyo, Japan and operates 4 separate training centres across Japan. With over 100 staff members, we graduate 30 to 50 guide dog teams a year. We are a leading guide dog school in Japan, working closely together with 7 other Japanese Guide Dog schools through the National Federation of All Japan Guide Dog Training Institutions.

The JGDA became a member school of IGDF in 1997. We had the honour to host the 2014 IGDF Seminar in Tokyo, where 289 delegates joined to learn from one another, enjoyed the company of each other and experienced Japanese hospitality. It was such a valuable opportunity not only for all the JGDA staff members involved but also our fellow colleagues in the Japanese Guide Dog movement, to witness the variety of style, structure, and culture of IGDF members first-hand.

Seishi is excited to serve IGDF as a board member and is aiming to provide equal benefits to member organizations, regardless of their language, location, and size. He is looking forward to achieving the goals of the IGDF with everyone.

Seishi was elected to the IGDF Board at the 2021 IGDF AGM.

David Maynard headshot smiling.

David Maynard

IGDF Company Secretary

David has over 12 years of experience in governance and board support roles in the private and not-for-profit sectors, including the British Medical Association, Heritage Lottery Fund, and Link Asset Services. He is an Associate of ICSA – the Chartered Governance Institute of the UK and Ireland.

David manages the IGDF Office in the UK. He works closely with the IGDF Board and Committees to deliver IGDF’s Vision and strategic priorities. David joined IGDF in March 2020.