The Seeing Eye, Inc. dates back to the late 1920's. They have a solid history of service for the blind and visually impaired in NE Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware though they are based out of Morristown, NJ. They do not limit their services to the tri-state area and have had graduates from all 50 states as well as all provinces of Canada. Families from Berks County have even volunteered to be puppy raisers.
When American Dorothy Harrison Eustis, decided to train police dogs in Switzerland, an editor from The Saturday Evening Post had requested that she write an article for their magazine highlighting police dog training. Eustis agreed but the article she presented was very different. It was on a German school of instruction to teach dogs to lead the blind. Soon, she began receiving hundreds of letters asking for more information but it was a letter from Morris Frank, a nineteen year old from Tennessee who had lost his sight in a school fight three years earlier that stood out from all of the others and changed thousands of lives forever.
Frank simply wrote, '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 my dog back and show people here how a blind man can absolutely be on his own….' Eustis trained Frank in Switzerland and granted him his wish. In 1929, The Seeing Eye was established by Eustis and Frank in Nashville, TN before moving to New Jersey in 1931. They became the first guide dog training facility in the United States.
Eustis had been captivated by the shepherd dogs performance while in Switzerland. The Germans had learned to train the dogs to lead veteran soldiers blinded by mustard gas during World War I. Using a makeshift city and park complete with buildings, sidewalks, roads, curbs, steps, bridges and other obstacles such as scaffolding, telegraph poles, ditches and people, the blind veterans were able to navigate the course with ease through the eyes and leadership of these 'guide' dogs. The Seeing Eye soon offered the same types of challenges and successes in the United States.
Like Canine Partners for Life, which was highlighted in part two of this series; Seeing Eye turns to individuals in communities to raise and LOVE the puppies while providing basic obedience commands, house manners and exposing them to everyday situations to learn socialization skills. Between the ages of 14 and 16 months, the puppies return to Seeing Eye at which time they undergo additional medical and behavioral testing before beginning their formal education with a qualified trainer. The dogs undergo a minimum of four months of formal training, beginning on the Morristown campus and progressing to longer, more difficult tasks around town, eventually making their way to New York City where they will encounter heavy traffic, strange noises, smells, obstacles and people. The dog must pass a mid-term and final exam during which the trainer is under blindfold while he/she works with the dog and is evaluated by a supervisor. Not all dogs complete the program and will either find a home with their puppy raisers; be adopted by an interested party in the community or even enter a police department where their skills and curiosity can be honed.
Prospective trainers must possess a four year college degree, complete a three year program for apprenticeship and instructional duties to teach not only the dogs how to be guide dogs but also the students to work with their new guide dog. It takes compassion, patience and commitment before one becomes an instructor and they must pass a series of competency testing throughout the program.
Applicants selected for a guide dog become students and attend a 25-day on-campus training session under the supervision of a sighted instructor. Upon completion, the students are known as graduates and receive a lifetime of support from Seeing Eye. On the average 260 dogs (yellow, black and chocolate Labradors, German shepherds, golden retrievers and golden-Lab mixes) are matched with students who are blind or visually impaired each year. Since its establishment, 15,500 partnerships have been made between graduates and dogs to help give individuals a better life to those that suffer retinopathy of prematurity (RLF/ROP), Retinal Pigmentosa, Glaucoma, Diabetes and other eye diseases and illness as well as those blinded in accidents, war, etc.
The accomplishments of The Seeing Eye helped launched disability rights in the 1970' and gave people a second chance at life. For more information on the Seeing Eye, their volunteer opportunities and application process please go to www.seeingeye.org.
Authors Note: In the legal segment, the various laws that cover service dogs will be addressed as well as defining the difference between puppies in training and certified service dogs.