Seeing Eye Dog Day
Today celebrates seeing eye dogs, which are service dogs that are guides for the visually impaired. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are commonly used as seeing eye dogs, because they are capable of complex training, and can stay calm and focused under difficult situations. Seeing eyes dogs are very trustworthy, and only follow instructions when it is safe to do so. They let their owners know about changes in elevation, help them avoid obstacles, help them find exits to a room or other locations, and help them retrieve dropped objects or get the mail.
Seeing eye dogs spend their early life in foster families. They undergo intensive training at a young age, before meeting their owners. They then train with their owners before being placed in homes with them. They are usually ready to begin their careers as seeing eye dogs by the age of one and a half, and may work with owners for eight to ten years before retiring and going to live with adoptive families.
The demand for seeing eye dogs first came about following World War I, when many soldiers returned blinded. The first school and training program for seeing eye dogs was in Germany, but didn't last long. Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a dog trainer from Philadelphia living in Switzerland, wrote an article about the German guide school, for the Saturday Evening Post, in 1927. Morris Frank, a blind man from Nashville, Tennessee, came across the story, and wrote to Eustis asking if he could come to Switzerland and train with and get a guide dog of his own. He said he would return to America and teach others about guide dogs if he was able to get a dog, and Eustis agreed he could come. After coming back with a female German Shepherd named Buddy, Frank started The Seeing Eye dog school. He started it on January 29, 1929, on the same day that we now celebrate Seeing Eye Dog Day. He started the dog school in Nashville, but it was moved to New Jersey in 1931, where it is still in operation.
How to Observe
Many seeing eye dog schools are nonprofits that get a lot of their money from donations. Consider donating to The Seeing Eye or a seeing eye dog school near you. If you see a person with a seeing eye dog today, you could ask them about their dog. It is best to talk to the owner about the dog instead of interacting with the dog, because you do not want to distract the dog from doing its job.