On January 29, The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey celebrated its 85th anniversary.
The Seeing Eye is the oldest guide dog school in the world, and the only one with a copyright on the term “Seeing Eye Dogs”. It was co-founded by Morris Frank, a young Nashville insurance salesman who was blind, and Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a Philadelphia socialite.
Eustis bred and trained German shepherds for the Swiss army and state police in Mt. Pelerin, near Vevey, Switzerland. The Saturday Evening Post approached her to write an article. She responded with an article entitled “The Seeing Eye”, in reference to a Biblical expression about the seeing eye and the hearing ear, that was about a program in Potsdam, Germany where dogs were being trained to lead soldiers who had been blinded in World War I.
When the article was published on November 5, 1927, a newsstand operator mentioned it to Morris Frank. He bought the magazine and took it home for his father to read to him. Frank’s mother was also blind and he knew, firsthand, how dependent she was on others. Hoping that a guide dog would give him independence, he wrote to Dorothy Eustis, asking her to train a dog for him and to consider starting a school in the U.S. After much discussion, Eustis brought Frank to Mt. Pelerin in the spring of 1928 and matched him with Buddy, a German shepherd. Together they trained on the streets of Vevey, Switzerland.
Since 1929, The Seeing Eye has placed 15,000 dogs with blind individuals. Guide dogs are typically German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, or a Labrador/golden cross. They generally are in service 7 to 8 years, though many work longer. When a dog retires, it can be kept as a pet or returned to The Seeing Eye and placed into a loving home.
Dogs are evaluated from the time they are puppies. If they meet the criteria, they are placed in the Seeing Eye training program. Once a dog completes the program, it is specifically matched to meet the needs of its new owner based on compatibility, strength, pace, temperament and home environment.
The cost of the first guide dog is $150. (Subsequent guide dogs cost $50 and there’s no charge to military personnel.) The fee includes round-trip transportation from anywhere in North America, room and board while an individual trains with the dog, and unlimited post-graduation home visits during the dog’s service life.
For more information on The Seeing Eye, or to make a donation, visit www.seeingeye.org.
* All photos in this post are the property of The Seeing Eye and cannot be reproduced without permission.
A special thank you to R. Bruce Johnson, volunteer archivist for The Seeing Eye for this information.