IAADP History

The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, (IAADP) is a non-profit organization launched in October 1993. An air of excitement and anticipation permeated the atmosphere of the meeting room at the St. Louis, Missouri Marriott where more than twenty people with disabilities, from many states, all partnered with assistance dogs, entered the room and took their seats. Toni and Ed Eames had a goal that night to create the base of a national consumer advocacy group composed of blind people partnered with guide dogs, deaf people partnered with hearing dogs and physically disabled people partnered with service dogs. The outcome of this meeting was a unanimous vote to establish an independent cross disability consumer organization that would represent all Assistance dog Partners and advance consumer interests in the assistance dog field. The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners was formed, becoming the first cross-disability coalition based upon partnership with assistance dogs.

Another one of the organizers of IAADP, Joan Froling, announced that Paws With a Cause, an ADI member and a large training program of service and hearing dogs, had generously offered to give us a grant for the publication of a newsletter for one year. Assistance Dog International, (ADI) is an organization of assistance dog providers committed to developing standards of training ad ethics for the industry. This newsletter, under the editorship of Joan, became one of the enticements for joining the organization. It would focus on the advocacy goals of IAADP and give voice to the needs of the membership. IAADP’s first goal would be to notify the approximately 15,000 disabled Americans partnered with assistance dogs about the availability of this publication and the existence of IAADP. A more wide-reaching goal would be spreading the word to an international disabled audience. Currently, in 2022, IAADP has over 1200 members, with several hundred international members.

Ed, Toni and Joan

Founders Ed and Toni Eames, and Joan Froling next discussed what IAADP’s goals should be. Ultimately, they delineated four major overlapping themes. These were: Education; Legislation; Advocacy; and Mutual Support.

Education would be a primary focus. Despite seventy years of guide dogs in this country, many people do not know what they do for their blind partners. Since hearing and service dogs were unknown until twenty years ago, an even larger segment of the population is unaware of the role they play in the lives of their disabled partners. If the general public is unaware of the benefits of working with assistance dogs, so is a large segment of the disabled community. Although some administrators of training programs and trainers are sensitive to the needs of their students, many are not. Finally, we need to educate each other about the work our dogs do for us and our disability-related needs. Surprisingly, many guide dog handlers have little knowledge of the functions of hearing and service dogs, and many blind people have little knowledge about the impact of deafness and physical disabilities on the lives of their disabled peers. The same could equally be said about those who are deaf and those who are physically disabled.

Although most consumer organizations do not take an explicitly active legislative and lobbying function, those attending this initial meeting thought we needed to overtly recognize our political role in fostering the rights of people with disabilities and their canine partners. State White Cane laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act guarantee our civil rights and those of our canine partners. Attempts have been made to restrict these rights and we need to be vigilant to make sure they are not curtailed in the future. An additional legislative thrust is to improve and extend the protections we currently enjoy. While participation in the political process might assure legal rights, the realities of everyday life do not always conform to the law. All those at that first meeting had faced many situations in which our legal access rights were denied. In some cases, individuals do not know their rights. In other situations, we need the support of our peers to help us fight against those who would keep us out of their taxis, hotels, motels, restaurants, medical offices, etc.

A major advocacy goal identified by the group was the development of programs to help maintain the partnership between human and canine. If we think of the tightly-knit partnership between us and our canine teammates, the cement that helps maintain the bond is the care delivered by veterinarians. However, many of them know little about what a service dog is, let alone what our dogs do for us.  In addition, when our dogs go through major health crises, the costs involved may be so large as to impoverish the human partner or force a breaking of the bond. We need to advocate for our dogs in such crises. Several assistance dog programs are beginning to assume some of the vet care cost responsibility for their graduates, but this is limited to the wealthier programs. IAADP members will try to work with other providers to recognize a similar commitment. In addition to working with veterinarians, we need to work with animal drug and dog food manufacturers and others to take some of the financial burden off those of us choosing partnership with assistance dogs. Currently, we have a strong bond with Nutramax – please see the Partners Page of this website.

A wide range of activities were suggested under the goal of mutual support. One was to share information about training, dog care, equipment, disease and disease control.  Another was to share information locally about veterinarians, obedience trainers, etc. Recognition was given to the need for provision of information about existing programs so those considering canine partnership can make informed choices. A final support area discussed was related to relieving grief at the breaking of the bond. For all of us who have gone through this traumatic experience, having the support of others who realize the depths of our loss would be very helpful.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Paws with a Cause pledged their support to the fledgling group. Subsequently, they donated $200 to help our efforts to become a meaningful, representative and broadly-based consumer advocacy group.

Buoyed by the success of our organizing effort, IAADP members continued their participation in the ADI conference, where our founding took place. Following the ADI conference, the Delta Society met for its annual convention. On the final night of the Delta meetings, Betty White was the featured banquet speaker. Following the very human and humane description by Betty of her life with and devotion toward animals, the six organizers of IAADP got together to take photos of the organizing committee. It was only fitting that one of the photos was of our six canine partners, golden retrievers, Ivy and Kirby, border collie, Noah, terrier cross, Corky, Samoyed, Nikki and Labrador retriever, Raider, all holding a perfect sit stay.

Over the intervening years, IAADP has grown into a prominent self-advocacy organization with more than 1,200 members. Its flagship publication, Partners’ Forum, has been recognized on several occasions for its outstanding quality by the Dog Writers Association of America.  IAADP’s Information and Advocacy Center has helped many assistance dog partners faced with illegal access denials by hotel, restaurant, airline and transportation personnel. The Center also educates and advises business and government representatives about the rights of patrons, employees, passengers, guests, customers, patients, students and others working with canine assistants. Another successful program fostered by IAADP is the Veterinary Care Program, (VCP) that helps reduce the financial burden faced by many disabled members unable to pay the high costs of veterinary care in a crisis.

Laura RoseThe history of IAADP would not be complete without mentioning Laura Rose. Laura Rose grew up in a family of dog lovers, introduced to many wonderful canine partners from a wide variety of breeds. While away at school, her mother was keen on bringing out the talents of many a dog, including Nikki, a Samoyed they had chosen to raise together. Training for disability-specific tasks was new and life-changing territory. Colleagues and mentors like Lynn Hoekstra facilitated her empowerment to achieve freedom and independence with assistance dog partners. Laura Rose co-founded several not-for-profit organizations and when Joan passed away, Laura Rose assisted IAADP between 2016-2021. As a retired board member, she remains a supporter of IAADP in memory of her mother.

If you know any people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs, please have them contact IAADP.