Leader Dogs for the Blind was founded on April 4, 1939 as the Lions Leader Dog Foundation. The next month, the Foundation leased a small farm in Rochester Hills, Michigan to house their new venture. Fifty dollars per month rented a farmhouse for the clients and staff, a barn for the dogs and a garage.
The first class of the official Lions Leader Dog Foundation graduated on October 8, 1939. The cost to graduate a client/dog team was $600.
Soon after incorporation, the Lions International Board of Directors requested that the word “Lions” be removed from the name because they had not sanctioned official support of the organization. In June 1940, the new name “Leader Dog League for the Blind” became official. The remainder of the 1940s saw additional growth of the organization and increased involvement of local and nationwide Lions Clubs. Support came in the form of donations, identifying potential clients and spreading the word of Leader Dog’s work and mission.
The 1950s welcomed the first Leader Dog week (Dec. 3–9, 1950) in Michigan as proclaimed by Governor G. Mennen Williams. In 1958, we stopped charging clients $150 to come to train with a Leader Dog, opening the door to everyone in need regardless of ability to pay. The decision to provide all services free of charge to clients continues to this day.
The 1960s brought continued growth at Leader Dog in terms of number of clients graduated, number of dogs trained and number of employees on staff.
Throughout the '80s, '90s and into the 21st century, the Lions have acted as the backbone of Leader Dog. Lions Clubs throughout the world have continued to support Leader Dog and its clients financially, brought thousands of people who needed assistance through Leader Dog’s doors, and have continued to serve on the Board of Trustees.