The Seeing Eye
The Seeing Eye, Inc. (TSE) is a guide dog school located in Morristown, New Jersey, in the United States. Since 1929, The Seeing Eye has assisted people who are blind, helping them gain independence, self-confidence, and dignity through the use of Seeing Eye dogs. The Seeing Eye, the founding member of the U.S. Council of Guide Dog Schools and a fully accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation, is a lead researcher in canine genetics, breeding, disease control, and behavior.
The Seeing Eye, Inc., owns the registered trademarks "Seeing Eye" (registration number 376,160, registered March 12, 1940) and "The Seeing Eye" (registration number 2,165,163, registered June 16, 1998), and only dogs from The Seeing Eye school in Morristown, N.J., can be called Seeing Eye dogs.
The history of The Seeing Eye began in Europe in the 1920s with a woman named Dorothy Harrison Eustis who moved to Vevey, Switzerland, from the United States to set up a breeding and training facility for German shepherds. Eustis bred and trained police dogs to be intelligent, strong, and responsible. Jack Humphrey was an American trainer and geneticist who helped Eustis train and develop their own scientific approach to breeding and training.
During World War I, many German soldiers were blinded or visually impaired due to the war, so several schools in German began experimenting with guide dogs that were taught specific skills. Eustis learned about these schools and was so impressed by it, she wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post. The article, “The Seeing Eye,” was published on November 5, 1927, and Eustis began receiving countless letters from people who were blind, asking her to train a guide dog for them.
Her article was read to Morris Frank, a 20-year-old blind man from Nashville, Tennessee. Frank, who had been blinded in two separate accidents, believed a guide dog would help him regain his independence. Eustis received his letter and although she did not train dogs for the blind, she decided to help Frank because his letter was unique: Frank stated that he intended to use the trained dog to spread awareness for the cause and eventually establish a school to help people through the training of guide dogs in the United States. Eustis and Humphrey began to research and modify their own training in which they trained several German shepherds to guide humans. In April 1928, Frank met his first ever Seeing Eye dog named Kiss. He changed her name to Buddy and named all his future Seeing Eye dogs (he had six in total) Buddy. The name is now retired by The Seeing Eye. Frank and Buddy had to go through a six-week training that not only created a strong bond, but also taught them to work as a team to navigate busy streets, dangerous obstacles, stairways, crowded shops, and anything that was a danger for Frank. On January 29, 1929, Eustis and Frank established The Seeing Eye in Frank’s hometown of Nashville. At first, the American culture was apprehensive about the idea of a dog guiding the blind and joining people in public places.
The Seeing Eye ran into many obstacles at first for the organization had no funding, needed special trainers, as well as special dogs. In addition, people were not open to the idea of allowing dogs into public places. The Seeing Eye confronted these obstacles head-on. Morris Frank and Buddy traveled the U.S. acting as ambassadors for the cause. They opened doors to access for people with disabilities and service dogs. They influenced the eventual passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act which grants full public access to people with service dogs. The first class was held in February 1929, and after several successful graduates were able to demonstrate the usefulness of a guide dog, people started to accept the idea. The Seeing Eye decided to move to Whippany, New Jersey, due to the hot temperatures of Nashville.
Since 1929, more than 16,000 partnerships have been created between Seeing Eye dogs and people who are blind and visually impaired from the United States and Canada. The Seeing Eye is a non-profit organization and is funded through private donations. It was the first guide dog school outside of Europe, and is the oldest existing guide dog school in the world. In 2014, The Seeing Eye celebrated its 85th anniversary.
In 2001, The Seeing Eye built a breeding station on 330 acres in Chester, New Jersey, in which it houses adult breeding dogs and puppies until they are 8 weeks old. The four primary breeds that are used for training are German shepherds, Labrador retriever, golden retrievers, and Labrador/golden crosses. Standard poodles will also be trained if the individual has allergies. Approximately, 500 puppies are born each year, with a 75% success rate for dogs who enter the formal Seeing Eye dog training program. From birth, there is a 60% success rate for puppies becoming guides or enter the breeding program. Those who do not make the guide or breeding program are placed in law enforcement, search and rescue, or adopted by their puppy raisers or the public. About 250 dogs reside at the Washington Valley Campus at any given time and about 60 dogs reside at the Breeding Station at Chester.
When the puppies are 8 weeks old, volunteers who are called puppy raisers will foster these puppies and begin their basic training. Before becoming a puppy raiser, the volunteer must join a puppy club and attend several meetings. Then they must practice puppy sitting for a while and after successfully puppy sitting they can apply. The volunteer has to live in the coverage area which can be found on the website.
As a puppy raiser, it is essential to give the puppy proper socialization that will be needed later in life. The puppy raiser is responsible for exposing the puppy to different environments such as cities, construction sites, other animals, and children. It is important to teach basic commands, which include sit, stay, lie down, come, and how to walk on a leash. Puppy raisers need to attend meetings, which allows the puppies to interact with other dogs and helps answer questions that the puppy raiser may have. When the puppy is between 13 to 16 months of age, the puppy will then return to The Seeing Eye for formal guide dog training.
The puppies that are returned will have to go through health screenings and then formal training. The formal training may take 4 to 6 months and there are no visits from the puppy raiser. The important aspect of formal training is for the dogs to respond and understand directional commands. The dogs will learn how to safely cross the street, stop at curbs, stop or guide their owner through obstacles and overhead obstacles also known as clearance. They will also learn commands such as forward, heel, and rest. Once the formal training is completed and the dogs have successfully graduated, they are then partnered up with their new owner.
The Seeing Eye, Inc., matches an average of 260 people who are blind or visually impaired each year with Seeing Eye dogs.
Applying for a Seeing Eye Dog
The applicant, also known as the student, goes through a screening process, which may take 60 to 90 days. The evaluations are based on amount of residual vision, and each applicant must be at least 16 years of age, have independent travel skills, have physical mobility, have appropriate living conditions, have sufficient hearing ability, and have an appropriate plan for use of the dog. Before the applicant is matched with their dog, the dog must return from the puppy raiser and then complete a four-month training program by an instructor. After the applicant is accepted, the dog will be matched with an appropriate student and together will train at The Seeing Eye. For first time students training sessions will take 25 days, however, for returning students the session will take 18 days. After the training is successfully completed and the student and their dog have graduated, the student receives full ownership of the Seeing Eye dog. The students will have support for a lifetime whether they need advice, have issues, or even require an instructor to assist them. Seeing Eye instructors made 792 follow up visits with graduates in 2011. The Seeing Eye is the only guide dog school that gives full ownership rights to the graduates. Seeing Eye dogs will work approximately seven to eight years. Seeing Eye dogs that are retired will be kept as pets or returned to the The Seeing Eye.
The fee charged to students (which includes transportation from anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, room and board, equipment, training, life-time follow-up service, and the dog) has remained unchanged since it was established in the early 1930s: New students pay $150, returning students pay $50, and military veterans pay $1. Students can pay the fee over any time period and no student has ever been turned away due to the inability to pay.
There are currently 1,720 Seeing Eye dog users in the United States and Canada while 16,000 and more partnerships between individuals and dogs have been made since 1929.
5 Tips of Etiquette
It can be dangerous to distract a Seeing Eye dog as it can make the owner vulnerable to harm. There are certain tips the public should to follow when seeing a Seeing Eye dog is working. The public needs to keep their own pets away from the guide dog even if the dogs want to greet each other, as this will cause the guide dog to lose focus. It is also helpful to tell the person who is blind that you have a dog. It is important to not make gestures, call the dog’s name, or even talk to the guide dog. It’s best to pretend the dog is not there. When the guide dog is wearing the harness, do not pet the dog, however, if the dog is resting without the harness you may ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. Please respect the owner’s decision if they say no. If the person who is blind seems to need help, please ask them first and do not shout directions at them. If you think they require assistance, ask first. Do not take the person by the arm or interrupt them when they are crossing the street. These are five tips of etiquette that when followed will allow the guide dog do its job and most importantly create a safe environment for the person who is blind.