Happy Birthday: The Seeing Eye (Guide Dog)

We want to wish The Seeing Eye a very warm and happy 88. Birthday!

And guess what: There is a training center right up the road in Morristown, NJ. How did it all come about and how can you help? Read on!

The Seeing Eye

To a blind person a Guide Dog is another set of eyes, who gives him the independence to go about their everyday life.

After World War I a lot of German soldiers returned from the war blind. In order to rehabilitate the wounded soldiers, Germany started a program in Potsdam to train German Shepherds (known for their intelligence and fidelity) as Guide Dogs.

It was a successful program helping many veterans overcome by their new, overwhelming reality of blindness.

Dorothy Harrison Eustis (1886-1946), an American, who helped train police dogs into Guide Dogs in Switzerland wrote this article, which in turn was read by blind Morris Frank (1908-1980) in America. He decided to write her a letter reaching out for any help he could get to find a teacher just like her in America. She didn’t just give him advise, but instead invited him to join her in Switzerland to receive his training. He promised to spread the word about these wonderful dogs in the United States after successful completion. On June 11, 1928, he made true on his promise, by crossing a dangerous street with the help of his guide dog Buddy. And where else would you prove street crossing skills better than in … New York City!

“Success” was his one-word telegram to Mrs. Eustis – The Seeing Eye was born “with the dream of making the entire world accessible to people who are blind.”
Morris Frank incorporated with the help of Dorothy Harrison Eustis The Seeing Eye, the first guide-dog school ever, in Nashville, Tennessee on January 29, 1929. Since the climate there wasn’t suitable for training dogs, the organization was relocated to Whippany, NJ. In 1965 it was then relocated again to its current location in Morristown, NJ.

Morris Franks ever-lasting influence

Morris traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to advocate for equal access law for people with guide dogs, meeting with President Hoover in 1930 and President Truman in 1949. Throughout his time he also met with 300 ophthalmologists and with Seeing Eye graduates.
Since there was little to no knowledge about guide dogs yet, Buddy was constantly refused access to the passenger compartment when traveling with Morris. Over the span of 7 years he constantly championed for this cause, which lead to an policy overhaul in 1935; allowing passengers to remain with their guide dogs when traveling on all railroads in the United States. By 1939 The Seeing Eye announced that the number of hotels banning guide dogs was “growing smaller constantly”. By 1956, every blind person accompanied with a guide dog was guaranteed access to public spaces in every state in the country. 

You might have seen the sculpture on Morristown Green in Morristown, showing Morris giving Buddy the “forward” command, as they are walking.

Photo Credit: By Kritzolina – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53992001

How you can help

As The Seeing Eye is a nonprofit organization and is helping blind people  by matching them with a suitable guide dog for only $150 and military veterans for $1. Here are some options, if you would like to help:

  • Donate: Any amount is appreciated – if you can give follow this link
  • Ask you employer to match contribution: the matching gifts program makes this possible
  • Raise a Seeing Eye puppy: You can volunteer to be a foster family to help raise a puppy for about 1 year – more info here

For more ways to help and to find out even more about The Seeing Eye, you can visit their website: www.seeingeye.org

And last but not least: Make sure not to touch or interact with a guide dog when seeing him, as he is on the job and it could be potentially dangerous for the owner, if his other set of eyes is distracted.