Seeing eye dogs have become commonplace in society today due to the great benefits they provide to people who have lost their vision. Man’s best friend has helped many blinded people over the years to become more independent and lead fulfilling lives without relying on others with assistance navigating this crazy world. But do you know how these great pets came to be used so commonly today?
With how helpful dogs can be when it comes to seeing for those who are unable to, it is a surprise that seeing eye dogs didn’t become a thing till 1927. However, they may have never become such a popular tool today without the writings of Dorothy Eustis. She was an American philanthropist who lived in Switzerland and supplied trained dogs to the Red Cross and police forces. She also helped schools in Germany who just started training seeing eye dogs to help WW1 veterans who were blinded by mustard gas during their service. She wrote an extensive article on the matter which was met with much uncertainty by the public.
But one man named Frank Morris took notice of the article as his father read it to him at their estate in Tennessee one day. Morris had gone blind from accidentally hitting a tree while horseback riding as a child combined with an injury to the other eye during a boxing match when he was 16. Morris had been extremely frustrated for a while from having to rely on others to get around and live his everyday life. So when he heard of the new training of dogs taking place in Germany he immediately wrote to Eustis in Switzerland.
He wrote to her saying “Is what you say really true? If so, I want one of those dogs! And I am not alone. Thousands of blind like me abhor being dependent on others. Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own. We can then set up an instruction center in this country to give all those here who want it a chance at a new life.” After hearing of his hardships and willingness to learn Eustis agreed to help. So Morris set out to Switzerland where he trained with a German Shepherd named Kiss which he immediately renamed Buddy.
After many weeks of hard training, Morris eventually learned how to navigate the local Swiss village with ease along with the navigational help of Buddy. So in 1928, he returned to America with his new companion Buddy and notified the media of his newfound seeing-eye dog. He was met with much skepticism so in order to demonstrate buddy’s skills he crossed one of the busiest streets in New York at the time. He recalled losing all sense of direction and surrendered himself to the dog he had so much trust in. Buddy navigated the busy street with buses and cabs screaming past and they eventually reached the other side successfully!
After demonstrating the great benefits a dog could bring to those suffering from lost eye sight, Morris and Eustis then founded America’s first guide dog school in 1929 called The Seeing Eye. As he had promised Eustis in his letter years earlier, Morris then traveled the US from 1929-1956 spreading awareness of guide dogs and promoting equal access laws for people with seeing eye dogs.
Thanks to Morris and his work, by 1956 every state in the US had passed laws allowing blind people with guide dogs access to public spaces. Now dogs are commonly used in our world today to help those with blindness!