I'd love to know more about his guide dog insurance

December 18, 2013 • Posted in guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by

Plenty of people who use guide dogs take the subway safely back and forth to work every day. I am not one of those courageous people.

Whitney and I walk long distances in the Chicago Loop, jump into cabs, ride CTA buses…but we NEVER take the el by ourselves. Here’s why: during the 1990’s, when I was working with my first Seeing Eye dog Dora, a number of blind people using guide dogs died after falling into subway tracks in Boston and new York City. They fell in, but couldn’t see to find the ladder to get out. This 1993 NY Times story explains how one woman perished:

A blind woman led by a guide dog was killed yesterday when she fell from a midtown subway platform and was struck by a train as she frantically tried to climb back over the platform edge, the transit police said.

“We don’t know how or why, but she apparently slipped over the edge, leaving her dog on the platform,” said Albert W. O’Leary, a transit police spokesman… Ms. Schneider was killed at 9:18 A.M. after she fell onto the southbound express tracks along the Broadway line. Witnesses said Ms. Schneider got up and tried to find the edge of the platform with her hands as a southbound No. 3 express train roared into the station with its horn blasting.

A story in yesterday’s news has a happier ending: a guide dog named Orlando saved his blind companion after the man fell from a New York subway platform onto the tracks. The man and dog survived unhurt, but that’s not enough to convince me to ride the el with Whitney. We’re staying above ground, on terra firma.

There’s one thing confusing me about all the national news stories about yesterday’s near-miss: they all say that the man has to put Orlando up for adoption now because his “medical benefits will cover a new guide dog but won’t pay for a non-working dog.”

I have never heard of any health insurance plans that cover the cost of feeding and caring for a guide dog. Maybe the man was talking about veterinary pet insurance? Guide dog users can choose to pay for the same pet insurance that is available to average people with companion dogs, and it doesn’t really matter if the dog is working or not.

None of the news stories I read gave the name of the health insurance plan the blind man used to cover Orlando., If any of you blog readers know of a health insurance plan that covers the ongoing cost of using a guide dog, please leave the name of that insurance plan here in the comment section. I want to sign up!

provb3110 On December 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I wondered the same thing, Beth. I was thinking that I need to call my insurance company and see if they’ll cover any of the expenses for Tank!

From what I’ve read recently, someone started a crowdfunding site for the man. It’s raised $21,000 already and is aiming for $50,000.

I’m trying to raise money for a handicapped accessible van so I know how difficult it can be to raise money. (I’m nowhere close to those totals.) It’s great that so many people are helping him. I’m constantly amazed at the kindness of strangers!


PS It’s been a long time since we’ve talked, but I’m keeping up with your blog. I’ll email you soon to check in!

bethfinke On December 19, 2013 at 9:53 am

Cara, Yes, it is heartwarming to think so many strangers are donating to this man, but it doesn’t sit well with me somehow to think the generosity might be born of false information about his insurance. L-Squared says it well in a comment below when she wonders if “the media just twisted this detail a bit in their reports, like they tend to do.” After the news of guide dog Orlando’s heroics came out my “in box” filled with email messages from friends who were appalled that this man’s insurance wouldn’t cover a retired guide dog, and that prompted me to quickly put together this blog post to find out what insurance this man might have had. maybe it’s time for me to put together another post about the generosity of volunteers who adopt our guide dogs when they’re done working. These generous souls know the vet bills will increase as the dogs age, plus the $$$ for food and other necessities comes right out of their pockets, not from any insurance plan. Or none that I know of!

L-Squared On December 19, 2013 at 1:13 am

I’m curious about that whole insurance thing too, but in my home state the various expenses associated with the care of a guide dog can be counted as “work-related expenses” by handlers who are employed but still qualify for Supplemental Security Income (and Medicaid) benefits. I’m assuming this is the case in other states too, so maybe that is what he meant and the media just twisted this detail a bit in their reports, like they tend to do.

Robert Ringwald On December 19, 2013 at 3:12 am

When I had two guide dogs in the 1950s and early 60s, vets never charged to work on guide dogs. It was always free. -Bob Ringwald

bethfinke On December 19, 2013 at 9:56 am

I wonder, was this thanks to the generosity of your particular vet, or did most guide dog users back then receive free vet care?

Hank On December 19, 2013 at 7:08 am

It might depend on where the dog came from. BC1’s dog is from a place in San Rafael, CA and I submit all his vet bills, except grooming, to them for reimbursement. I don’t know if everyone who gets a dog there is eligible or if you have to qualify.
And to Robert’s point, I am always incredulous that vets don’t comp services to service animals. Those greedy you-know-what’s!

bethfinke On December 19, 2013 at 10:10 am

Wow, Hank, you’re right! I just looked up The Veterinary Financial Assistance Program (VFA) at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael — their web site says they’ll reimburse up to $250 annually for wellness visits for Guide Dog School for the Blind graduates and their dogs, and, if other thigs come up, GDB graduates can contact the school to see if they’ll pay for that, too. Their site says the assistance program is designed to: * Provide appropriate financial support for graduates requiring veterinary assistance to their guide dogs * Ensure graduates’ finances are not a barrier to guide dogs receiving appropriate veterinary care. * Provide health information for the GDB database for each guide dog on a regular basis. * Help manage Veterinary-related expenses – It addresses stewardship of donor funds and constituent contributions.

Back to me: I couldn’t find any information there about whether the VFA continues to pay for vet visits after the dogs retire, though.

bethfinke On December 19, 2013 at 10:18 am

Some more information I’ve turned up:

For veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs considers a guide dog the same as a prosthetic. They will help pay for food and maybe grooming as well. Check with your local VA Coordinator for more information.

Social Security:

In California, SSI and SSDI recipients may receive a monthly supplement to help offset the cost of dog food, and a friend from the Seeing Eye wrote to tell me

that in certain cases, the state of New York provides a monthly stipend for dog food )§ 303-a. Grants of assistance for guide dogs, hearing dogs and service dogs)

Pet Insurance:

Veterinary pet insurance is a way to help offset costs of veterinary care. In general, monthly installments toward the annual premium are made to the veterinary insurance company. Depending on the plan, most will cover a certain percentage of a vet visit after a fixed cost deductible is met by you. The client needs to pay the veterinarian at the time of service, and then submits a claim form to the veterinary insurance company with receipts attached. If you are considering buying pet insurance, be sure to research thoroughly and read the fine print. You can read consumer reviews and ratings of many U.S. and Canadian insurance companies at http://petinsurancereview.com. The Veterinary Financial Assistance Program currently does not reimburse Veterinary Insurance Installments or Premiums.

I live close to campus; can I just bring my dog to GDB regularly?


Erin On December 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

From the GDB Website

Alternative Financial Assistance

You can help GDB contain the costs of our Veterinary Financial Assistance Program by taking advantage of other options that might be available to you:

• Veterans — If you are a veteran, the Veterans Administration will reimburse all veterinary costs for your guide. To access this service, contact your VIST coordinator.

• Canadian residents – The Canadian National Institute for the Blind has a guide dog assistance fund which may be available to you. Contact the manager of the Guide Dog Assistance Fund at the CNIB head office in Toronto at 416 486 2500 or by e-mail at guidedogfund@cnib.ca.

• Pet Insurance — You may wish to explore options for pet insurance with your veterinarian.

• IAADP — The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) has a veterinary care partnership program. Membership in IAADP is $30 per year and details of the benefits available can be obtained on the IAADP website at http://www.iaadp.org

• Flexible Spending Accounts – If you are employed and your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (IRS Section 125 Plan), you can contribute to that plan for all guide dog expenses.

I do believe GDB provides medical care for dogs that are close to campus. I am unsure whether they continue to provide reimbursement for vet care after retirement but it might depend on whether the guide retires in the graduates home or not.

The Empty Pen On December 19, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Margaret Atwood just tweeted about the incident. Canadian newspapers seemed to do slightly more digging. They didn’t mention insurance, but said that the Guiding Eye company was providing the funds to keep and feed Orlando. It still doesn’t quite add up, but here’s a link to the article: http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/world/story/1.2469944

Amanda On December 20, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Anybody who works can use guide dog expenses as a medical deduction. I can deduct food and medical expenses of a working dog either from my flexible spending acct or at some places as a medical expense for myself it just depends on the company and plan. Ssi and ssdi will allow guide dog expenses if your working. Otherwise there is no specific insurance for guide dogs. Iaadp has some coverage for assistance dogs but only when they have funds and if they are actively working.

bethfinke On December 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Thanks, Amanda, very useful information. You say anyone who works can avail themselves of such things, but not all employers offer the flexible spending plan, do they? I’ve contacted Bark Magazine to see if they might want me to do an entire article on this subject for an upcoming issue. If they say yes, all these programs you blog readers have left here as comments will really come in handy –thanks!

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