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Dogs for People With Disabilities

by Brigitte Smith

History of the Seeing Eye, or Guide Dog

Where the idea of using guide dogs was first used is obscure. There is evidence that dogs have been used for the blind, in various cultures for a very long time. But it is know that there was no formal program in existence until after World War I.
Why Were German Shepherds the Original Companion Animals for the Blind?
Although today a number of different breeds are commonly used as guide dogs, initially they were all German Shepherds. The reason?  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 end of World War I Germany was devastated by financial depression. Many private businesses failed and the Potsdam, the German school for training the guide dogs for the blind was one of them.
Guide Dogs in the United States and Elsewhere
The German program first made its way to the United States due to an American woman, Dorothy Eustis, who had heard about the German program and decided it was a worthwhile concept. Because she owned a company that was training German Shepherds as working dogs, she decided she might also try to train guide dogs, or companion animals 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. 

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