There are thousands of blind people living in the United States. Until 1929, the only options blind people had were to use a cane or stay home all day. Then, a blind man named Morris Frank established a company called The Seeing Eye. The Seeing Eye raised and trained dogs to lead blind people. Morris received a trained dog from Switzerland. Guide dogs existed in Europe for years before they came to the United States.
In 1942, a new program called the Puppy Placement Program was begun. This program gave seven-week-old puppies to families with children. It is quite popular because all costs are paid by The Seeing Eye, including food and veterinary charges. The care the dogs receive from families has a very positive effect on the way the dogs act when they are grown. Since 1942, tens of thousands of blind people have received dogs. It provides them with a sense of freedom they never felt.
I have visited the Seeing Eye headquarters in New Jersey, where I spoke with several blind people as well as the trainers of the dogs. When asked what it was like before owning the dog, one woman said that it felt like you were walking along the edge of a cliff wearing a blindfold. I viewed a demonstration of a Seeing Eye dog's capabilities, where a pathway was scattered with cones and boards. Above it hung a low branch. A trainer took a dog by the harness and advanced toward the obstacles. The dog stopped at each one, and allowed the trainer to step around or over. The dog even stooped at the branch.
My family has already raised one Seeing Eye dog, and is working with another. Our first dog, Chloe, passed the Seeing Eye's test and is now living with a college senior in California. Frito, the dog we have now, is also showing promising signs. We will keep Frito for a year. During that time, we are supposed to teach him basic commands like sit, down, and stay. After one year he will be nearly full-grown. Then, the Seeing Eye progam will take him and give him three months of special training. It is hard to give up your dog, but you know that he is going to a good home. If a dog does not pass the test, the people who raised him have the option to buy him. The Seeing Eye is a non-profit organization with headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. For more information, call (201) 539-4425. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.