Monday, January 28, 2013

Seeing Eye Dogs - The Rest of the Story


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By Diane Forrest

I loved listening to Paul Harvey.  He was a radio announcer, with a voice as smooth as silk.  He would end each broad cast with...Good Day!  He would talk about current events, and sometimes would give his opinion on different subjects, and occasionally he would delight listeners with a story in a segment called "The rest of the Story".  His son wrote a book with some of these stories, and I was fortunate to have a copy.  During these segments, he would start by talking about something familiar, then would go back and give the history of the event he was discussing.  Learning the history always make the story so much more interesting to me.
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Today is the 84th anniversary of the founding of the Seeing Eye Dog.  Many people are familiar with these dogs who assist the blind or vision impaired to move around more independently, but not many know about the origins of this service.

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While there has been a long history of dogs assisting people who
are blind, it was not until after World War I that a formal dog guide program was developed. A school in Potsdam Germany trained German shepherds as guides for blinded veterans of the war, but did not stay in existence for very long. However, an American woman living in Switzerland learned of the program and ultimately advanced the modern dog guide movement in the United States. Her name was Dorothy Harrison Eustis and she was a wealthy Philadelphian experimenting with the training of German shepherds as working dogs. When she visited the Potsdam School, she thought the concept of a dog guide was a noble profession for which to train her own dogs. But it was not until after she wrote an article about the Potsdam school which appeared in the November 5th, 1927 edition of The Saturday Evening Post that she had any cause to incorporate dog guide training for her dogs.

Morris Frank, a young blind man living in Nashville, Tennessee heard the article and wrote to Ms. Eustis asking her to train a dog for him. Morris Frank had lost the use of his eyes in two separate accidents and did not like depending on others. He asked Ms. Eustis to train a dog for him and, in return, he would teach others who were blind so that they, too, could become independent. Ms. Eustis replied that if he could come to Switzerland for the training, she would accommodate his request. Morris Frank became the first American to use a dog guide and Buddy, a female German shepherd, became the pioneer dog guide in America.

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Morris Frank returned home to Nashville and honored his promise: with $10,000 from Ms. Eustis, Morris Frank worked to establish the first dog guide school in America. Incorporated on January 29, 1929, it was called The Seeing Eye, after the article Ms. Eustis wrote. The title came from Proverbs 20:12 in the Bible, "The Seeing Eye, the hearing ear; The Lord hath made them both." The first class had two students and by the end of the first year 17 people experienced new-found freedom with Seeing Eye dogs by their sides according to muhlenberg.edu.



Now you know the rest of the story.


In the past 84 years, the guide dog organization has grown and assisted thousands of people.  The organization breeds its own dogs, mainly retrievers, and some boxers for people who are allergic to long haired dogs.   Once a dog is 8 weeks old it is sent to a volunteer family to raise and learn and be loved.  When he is 18 months old, he is returned to the institute for training with the prospective owner.  Training lasts for several weeks, and then the dog is put into service, normally about 7 years, and sometimes as long as 10 years.  Then the dog is retired, and either kept as a pet or adopted by another family.
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To learn more about this program, or to become a volunteer or sponsor, visit this site:  http://www.seeingeye.org/

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