| Karlene Wieland
Buddy and Morris-the Beginning of the Seeing Eye Dog Movement
This species that we think of as our fur-kids, our best friends and most fun playmates are our heroes too. Today we celebrate Seeing Eye Dog Day through the eyes of history and a few furry examples....
In 1927 American Dog Breeder Dorothy Harrison Eustis was breeding German Shephard dogs in Switzerland to work as police dogs. She was intrigued by a school in Potsdam, Germany, that was training dogs to help WW1 veterans who's sight had been affected by mustard gas. They were allowing these vets to have new freedoms by navigating for them instead of depending on other people.
Word spread across the pond in 1927 when The Saturday Evening Post contacted Eustis to write an article about her police dogs but she ended up writing an article about the Potsdam school. Morris Frank of Nashville Tennessee responded to her article suggesting that he would come to Switzerland if she would train one of her dogs to be his partner. Her beloved German Shephards were up to the task and she formed her own school for this very purpose.
Having been completely sightless since he was 16, Morris boarded the transatlantic ship at 19 years old. His journey was indicative of the frustrations he was encountering as a recently blind person. Because of the danger to himself on the ship (short railings, slippery surfaces etc.) he was booked as “cargo” and isolated to an interior room that he could only leave when he was accompanied by a member of the ship's crew.
This changed on the return trip. After spending close to a month training with his dog he boarded the ship with Buddy by his side. Buddy, whose original name was Kiss, led Morris safely onto the ship and around it during the trip. When they got off the ship in New York she was able to demonstrate exactly what she had been trained to do.
She led Morris through the throng of reporters who had gathered to document the event. Upon a dare from one of the newsmen they crossed the busy West street which was filled with traffic. He was concerned that she may be being pushed too far this early on but she was successful with out issue. Morris praised her with affection and sent a telegram to Eustis with one simple word-“Success!”
He had agreed with Eustis that his role would be to help raise awareness. He planned to “..get Buddy accepted all over America with no more fuss than if she were a cane.”
Buddy and Morris travelled together many miles including on the first air flight to include a guide dog. Their work together influenced the American Disabilities Act and has enabled many sightless individuals to receive “…the divine gift of freedom,” according to the late Morris.
Today there are many credible guide dog schools though the original American Seeing Eye Dog School was started by Morris with Eustis’ backing in Tennessee and later moved to New Jersey where it remains today. It is the oldest guide dog school in the world. Retrievers, Shephards, Labs and the occasional Standard Poodle (for those who are allergic to fur) are raised from puppies. Approximately 60% are able to demonstrate “Intelligent disobedience,” a characteristic necessary for the dog to disobey an owners instructions if it would cause the owner harm. These dogs are the ones who are most likely to make it to becoming full-fledged guide dogs. Today, Seeing Eye Inc. has not only a behavioral trainer but a geneticist on staff to produce the best results.
Buddy was a special dog in leading this movement with her beloved owner. Following her death not long after her groundbreaking airplane flight, Morris found his next partner whom he also named Buddy. There were six total Buddies until Morris passed in 1980. After that, Seeing Eye Inc. no longer allowed a puppy to be named Buddy.
To read more about contemporary Seeing Eye Dog Heroes, learn about Ruger who saved his owner in 9/11 or the guide dog who lost his sight and was helped by another guide dog.