Dogs for People With Disabilities
Today people with diverse disabilities benefit from the assistance of and/or interaction with specially trained dogs for the disabled.
This recent trend was of course preceded by Guide Dogs for the blind, or “seeing eye” dogs, which have been around for a very long time.
Next came “hearing eye” dogs, and the whole concepts of dogs for people with disabilities was born.
History of Seeing Eye Dogs
No one seems to know when the idea of using guide dogs first came into being. There is evidence that dogs have been used in such a capacity for the blind, in various cultures for a very long time. It is known, however, that there was no formal guide dog program in existence until after World War I.
Why Were German Shepherds Used?
Although today various breeds may be used as guide dogs, initially they were invariably German Shepherds. The reason was twofold. First, the German Shepherd has a strong sense of loyalty to its owner, giving it a natural tendency to be protective. Having a very protective dog as a companion is an obvious asset for someone who may otherwise be easily attacked by less then scrupulous individuals. Secondly, the first guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired were trained in Germany to provided assistance for those blinded in the war.
After the conclusion of World War I the nation of Germany was devastated by financial depression. Many private businesses failed and the Potsdam, Germany’s school for training the guide dogs for the blind was one of them.
Guide Dogs in the United States and Elsewhere
An American woman named Dorothy Eustis had heard about the German program and decided it was a very worthwhile endeavor. Because she owned a company that was training German Shepherds as working dogs, she decided she might try to train guide dogs for the blind. She did not start this right away, however. In fact she was still considering the possibilities when she penned a story for The Saturday Evening Post about the potential for guide dogs for the blind.
A Nashville man named Morris Frank read the story and decided to write to Ms. Eustis and ask her to train a dog for him. She did, and Mr. Frank became known as the first blind person to use a guide dog in America.
As part of an arrangement he’d made with Ms. Eustis, Mr. Frank then started training guide dogs in the United States. The foundation that Mr. Frank started was dubbed “The Seeing Eye” and the so-called Seeing Eye dog was effectively born.
Today, guide dogs are trained to assist people with many different disabilities. There are Hearing Ear dogs to assist the deaf and other dogs that assist the physically disabled. Visually impaired people, and people with other types of disabilities who have benefited from the use of a guide dog, the world over, owe their thanks to Mr. Morris Frank of Nashville, Tennessee.