Dogs and humans have been living and evolving together for more than 32000 years but it wasn’t until after WWI that the demand for “seeing eye dogs” began to climb.
During the war many soldiers were blinded during combat and needed assistance once they returned home. Help for these veterans came in the form of a program for guide dogs that began in Germany. The program trained only German Shepherds to be used as guide dogs but unfortunately the program was short lived and soon disbanded.
Word of the program spread quickly and a woman from Philadelphia, living in Switzerland, wrote about the Guide School for the Saturday Evening Post. The article, written by Dorothy Harrison Eustis, was called The Seeing Eye and it was published in 1927.
A man living in Nashville, Tennessee read the article and reached out to Eustis asking if he could travel to Switzerland to train and receive a dog. Morris Frank was blind and he promised Eustis one thing—If he were to receive a dog he would return home and teach others how to use their dogs as well.
Eustis accepted his request and Frank traveled to Switzerland where he was paired up with a female German Shepherd by the name of Buddy. Buddy was the first Guide Dog to be used in the United States and Frank Morris was the first man in America to be partnered with a seeing eye dog.
On January 29, 1929 Frank fulfilled his promise to Eustis when he opened a guide dog school in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Eustis became a benefactor to the school when she made a donation of $10,000 to help get the school off the ground. The school opened under the name The Seeing Eye, which just happened to be the article written by Eustis for The Saturday Evening Post.
Two years later, in 1931, The Seeing Eye relocated to New Jersey where to this day, it still operates. Guide dogs begin their training as young puppies and they finish their education by the time they reach 18 months of age. Once they graduate to guide dog status they are prepared to travel safely with their handlers in public. A trained guide dog will notify their handler if there is a change in elevation that might cause the handler to trip and fall and they also help their handler avoid obstacles.
And while guide dogs are trained to follow the instructions of their handler, they only do so if it means their handler will keep the team out of harms’ way. This means a guide dog will only cross a busy street if there was no oncoming traffic or obstacles to prevent them from crossing.
Guide dogs are also trained to help their handlers find certain places such as the exit to a building or a certain store while out shopping. They also help with other tasks like retrieving an object that their handler might drop.
Handlers understand how service dogs should be treated while working in public but often the general public does not. When one encounters a service dog at work as tempting as it might be, it’s important to let the guide dog do its’ job. If the guide dog becomes distracted it may prevent the dog from protecting his handler from harm. Don’t ever honk your horn from your vehicle if you happen to see a dog and its’ handler crossing the street. This too is a distraction that the dog doesn’t need.
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