1964: Walter Rupp begins to train guide dogs for blind people in a private capacity in the 1960s. Not only is he the founder of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Schools in Allschwil (1972) and Liestal VBM (1986), he is also a driving force in the development of the International Guide Dog Federation. His booklet «Dog training done differently!» is a «must-have» for ordinary people with an interest in dogs and his textbook «Guide dogs for the Blind - the new training methods» becomes a standard reference work for trainers of guide dogs for blind people. Walter Rupp dies in Canada, his adopted home, on 11th December 2021, at the age of 92.
1972: Jeanne Lovioz emerges as a generous patron of the Foundation. She donates 150,000 Swiss Francs to be used as seed capital. Even in her later years, Ms Lovioz supports the school with considerable sums of money, and is appointed as its Honorary President.
1969: Christine Rüedi starts work as Walter Rupp’s first «apprentice» in the winter of 1969/1970, learning how to train guide dogs for blind people. Following the departure of Walter Rupp, she runs the school in Allschwil from 1985 to 1997. It is thanks to Christine Rüedi’s dedication that a large group of benefactors is formed, and the plot of ground covered by the school is extended by exchanging or purchasing additional parcels of land.
The re-zoning action and votes of the Allschwil electorate are also vital to the new building for the school.
1972-1999: The vet and future Cantonal Veterinary Surgeon of Basel-Landschaft, Dr vet. Jean-Pierre Siegfried treats our dogs free of charge and supports the school from the very beginning in his role as a prudent Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
1978: The Residential and office centre for disabled people (Wohn- und Bürozentrum für Behinderte - WBZ) in Reinach has a longstanding working partnership with the Guide Dogs for the Blind School in Allschwil and has produced our magazine since 1978. On the basis of his excellent German-language skills, and as an extremely young KV (Swiss Commercial Association) graduate, Marc Eglin is appointed to the WBZ print/finishing shop in 1982. He records countless texts – whether written by hand or typed out – using an IBM typesetting machine and (later on) the first Apple computers.
1982: Lorenz Casparis begins his training as an instructor in 1982 and graduates in 1985. In 2009 he leaves the world of business management because he misses working with guide dogs and their keepers. He then goes back to working as an instructor. Lorenz Casparis retires in 2019, after 37 years of working as a guide dog instructor. As of today, he holds the record for the employee with the longest period of service.
1982: Silvana Gross starts work in the Administration department at the Guide Dogs for the Blind School in March 1982. Over the following years, she steadily takes on more and more responsibility. In 2001, she is promoted to the Management Board, where she heads the Administration and Public Relations functions. From 2009, Silvana Gross acts as Chair of the Management Board, a position she retains until her retirement in 2014.
Among the major innovations implemented by the school under the triple leadership of Silvana Gross, Ugo Sprecher and Lorenz Casparis are the creation of three new divisions, for social support dogs, assistance dogs and autism service dogs.
In her interview with Giuseppina Barone, Silvana Gross talks about the many years she has spent working at the Guide Dogs for the Blind School.
1987: Dr Alfred Hosch gets to know the school in 1975, as the «foster carer» of a young dog. In 2018, Hosch writes in an editorial for the bulletin on: «Acquiring a temporary dog», explaining that this has become the «solution» for his family that has four children and a father-in-law who doesn’t like dogs. Alfred Hosch is elected to the Board of Trustees in 1987; he continues his membership until 2018, including twelve years as Chair of the Foundation. Alfred Hosch dies at the age of 95 on 2nd June 2019.
1990-now: Ugo Sprecher joins the school as a trainee guide dog instructor in 1990. From 1996 (and the reorganisation of management that created three divisions), Ugo Sprecher leads the Department of Breeding and Operations. Since 2020 – and the second reorganisation – he has led the Department of Training and Breeding. Thanks to Ugo Sprecher's specialist knowledge and contact network, the Allschwil school breeds labradors that are robust, with good temperaments and, most importantly, good health. The drop-out rate on medical grounds is low for these dogs because all the breeding stock is tested for hip/elbow dysplasia and cataracts; if any animal's results are at all abnormal, it is no longer used for breeding purposes.
1990: During a walk with her Labrador Retriever, Sonya Ghenzi is approached by Christine Rüedi and asked whether she would be prepared to make her dog available for breeding purposes. This conversation not only results in a litter of puppies, but it also leads to an employment relationship. Sonya Ghenzi starts work as a Sunday Staff Member in 1990, becomes a pre-trainer in 1994 and works as an instructor for Guide Dogs for the Blind until 2022.
In the interview, guide dog instructor Sonya Ghenzi talks about her work at the Guide Dogs for the Blind School. She retires in the spring of 2022, after 32 years of service.
1998: Bruno Kuster succeeds Christine Rüedi, as well as Chairing the Management Board (1998 – 2009).
The new tariff agreement with the Swiss Federal Office for Social Security is negotiated under Bruno Kuster; this is an important milestone for the development of the school. From this time forward, guide dogs no longer become the property of the disability insurance fund when they are handed over to the person keeping them – the dogs now remain in the ownership of the school, which receives a rental fee for each fully-operational, tested dog.
1999-2009: Politician Eduard «Edi» Belser from the Basel region is elected as successor to Jean-Pierre Siegfried as Chair of the Board of Trustees. Commenting on his appointment, the School writes: «He too is owed a great deal of gratitude for the time and energy he brings to the Foundation following his retirement from the Cantonal government». Belser heads the Foundation for ten years and, thanks to his excellent relationships with Switzerland’s French-speaking area, he achieves a much stronger base in that region.
2000: In the «noughties», Jacques Ditesheim, President of Switzerland’s Retriever Club, contacts the school with the idea of developing a programme to visit homes and institutions to provide animal-supported therapy. The pilot project involving social support dogs begins in 2002, with the first courses held in Basel, Bern and Valais. These soon attract a great deal of interest.
2008: Alfons Liner and his partner Christine take the first «foster dog» into their care. After foster dog Orlando comes Ecco, Bento of Three Castaneas, Quintus and Zorrino. This couple also regularly have dogs to stay «on holiday», and are now going to take in a «pensioner» guide dog for the first time too.
Alfons Liner talks to guide dog keeper Giuseppina Barone about his time as a foster dog keeper, and about his experiences with all his foster dogs.
Dr. Béatrice Coffen
2007: Dr Béatrice Coffen takes on the function of Assistant to Silvana Gross. In 2009, Dr Béatrice Coffen succeeds Lorenz Casparis and leads the Training Department until 2015. For the first time in the school’s history, the training division is led by a management board member who doesn’t have a professional background as an instructor. Béatrice Coffen is directly responsible for the recognition of the profession of Instructor of Guide Dogs for the Blind and for preparing the various training modules.
2007-now: In 2007, Monika Schär takes over leadership of the Social Support Dogs division from Jacques Ditesheim. Under her direction, the network of social support dog trainers grows in step with the range of institutions welcoming visits from social support dogs. The division also increases the number of visits it makes to nurseries and schools for «dog bite prevention» assignments.
2009: The idea of training assistance dogs for people with restricted mobility is imported from the Anglo-Saxon world into Switzerland and then all the way to Allschwil by Natalie Corman. In 2009, the school takes on the patronage of FIDES, an association for assistance dogs that is already in existence; it also provides Ms Corman with a dog called Stella for training purposes. The new Assistance Dogs division officially starts work on behalf of people with restricted mobility in 2012.
André Meyer (1980-2015†)
André Meyer started working at the School for Guide Dogs on 1st January 1980. As well as his job training dogs and successive generations of instructors, André also always sought to solve problems, make improvements and push innovations forward. His expertise had a critical effect on the work carried out by Stephan Berger and Erna Suter’s leatherwork studio in the Jura mountains to improve the harnesses worn by our dogs. André’s hobby was photography, which he used to enhance our existing extensive photo collection. He also helped to produce several photobooks about the Allschwil school. His photographs laid the foundation for the dog calendar, illustrated countless Bravas and adorned the school’s hallways. Anyone leafing through our photograph archive these days will repeatedly come across André Meyer’s iconic images.
1999-2021: First elected to the Board of Trustees in 1999, Roman Meury chairs the Board from 2009 to 2021. He is particularly committed to setting up the Foundation of the German School for Guide Dogs and collaborating with our partner school in Berlin. The «rental» system for guide dogs is set up in cooperation with the Berlin School for Guide Dogs. He is also a powerful advocate for the establishment of the school’s additional training divisions.
2010: Guide Dogs for the Blind instructor Peter Kaufmann is introduced to the concept of autism service dogs when he visits New Zealand and Ireland. Back in Switzerland, he suggests to the Allschwil school that it too should train autism service dogs from now on. Autism service dogs have been trained in one of the school’s four divisions since 2012 and are now in great demand.
2014: Gérard Guye takes over the position of Chair of the Management Board in 2014, following the retirement of Silvana Gross. From then on, he is also responsible for the Department of Administration and Public Relations. He ushers in the restructuring of the school (which has now grown much bigger) and puts the Department of Administration and Public Relations on a more professional basis. He also initiates the adjustment of the Foundation’s article of purpose and subsequent new strategic direction of the school.
2017: Katharina Eberle is employed as Head of the Training Department at the school from 2017 to 2020 and is a member of the Management Board. Katharina Eberle contributes significantly to the professionalisation and consistency of training standards, as well as establishing international contacts in areas relating to standardisation and access.
2021-now: Beat Herzog takes over the Chairmanship from Roman Meury in January 2021.
1981–now: Markus Feer has had guide dogs from Allschwil since 1981. In his interview with Giuseppina Barone, he speaks about the extra mobility provided by a guide dog and how the dogs have changed in nature over the past forty years. He also describes how he deals with the period without a dog, after his guide dogs have retired.
Long-term, expert employees
2022: Anyone delving into the history of this school will soon see that some members of staff have worked for the institution over many years. Anniversary celebrations marking 30 years or more of service are not at all rare. Of course, the Swiss employment market currently only has four schools providing training for guide dogs for blind people, and the opportunities for promotion are limited. Employees who want to learn about other specialist areas are almost forced to move abroad. When they are asked, it becomes quite clear that employees stay loyal to the profession and the school because this work is unique and the setting of the school is right for them. Training the dogs and working with people whose biographies and needs are so diverse keeps the profession constantly fresh, exciting and full of variety.