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A Celebration Of Seeing Eye Dogs

January 15 2024

Some of the most amazing dogs will celebrate their birthday on January 29th: it’s Seeing Eye Dog Day. Seeing Eye dogs—also called guide dogs—have helped thousands of people with visual impairments live independently. A local veterinarian discusses these amazing pups in this article. 

How Are Guide Dogs And Seeing Eye Dogs Different?

There are no significant distinctions between the two, as far as duties and tasks. It simply comes down to semantics and proper use. The term The Seeing Eye dog is trademarked, and should only be used for dogs trained by The Seeing Eye. Pups that were trained by other schools should be called guide dogs. 

That said, there is a clear contrast between guide dogs and therapy dogs or emotional support animals. Guide dogs fall under the category of service dogs and are granted legal protection at a federal level. They also have permission to accompany their owners in almost all places, except for sterile environments like laboratories and specific hospital units. This is not the case with therapy dogs or emotional support dogs.

What Dog Breeds Are Guide Dogs?

Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are the most popular. However, other breeds have shown great success in this field. These include Border Collies, Standard Poodles, Vizslas, Australian Shepherds, Boxers, and Airedales. The Labradoodle and Goldendoodle, though not officially recognized breeds, are also popular in this role. They are often favored because their coats are easier for those with allergies to cope with.

How Much Do Seeing-Eye Dogs Cost?

The expenses associated with training and caring for Fido during his working years can reach up to $50,000 annually. While Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance plans do not typically cover these costs, individuals may be able to utilize FSA or HSA accounts. Other funding options include crowdfunding, grants, and personal savings or loans. Some guide dog institutes operate as charities, and may offer assistance in other ways, although eligibility requirements may differ. 

What Can Guide Dogs Do?

Guide dogs assist their human companions in many different ways, such as crossing streets, and safely navigating them through or around things like curbs, hills, ditches, potholes, parking meters, lamp posts, open manholes, and/or low-hanging awnings or branches. Moreover, they can lead their humans into or out of buildings or rooms, locate elevators, and find available seating. Finally, they can retrieve specific items like mail, medication, or a coat for their owners.

How Do Guide Dogs Do Their Jobs?

Fido generally uses a variety of methods and steps, which will vary depending on the task he is performing. However, intelligent disobedience is key. If a guide dog spots a potential hazard, he won’t go forward, regardless of commands. Guide dogs often stop or sit to alert their owners when approaching a curb, stairwell, or another obstacle. 

Many people wonder how dogs help people cross streets. Fido can’t read street signs or watch street lights: he’s red-green colorblind. It’s a joint effort. The human will listen to the flow of traffic and wait for it to move in a parallel direction, then give Fido the command to move forward when it is safe.

How Did The Seeing Eye Dog Come To Be?

Specialized schools for guide dogs began emerging in the early twentieth century. However, evidence suggests that our canine companions may have been fulfilling this duty for over two millennia. Artifacts discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum, a Roman town destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E., depict a dog leading a blind person. Similar depictions can also be found in historical documents from Asia and Europe, some of which date back to the Middle Ages.

Further evidence of dogs guiding the blind can be found in 16th-century literature. One old alphabet rhyme has a line that says: ‘B was a blind led by a dog.’ Elizabeth Barret Browning mentioned guide dogs in her 19th-century work Aurora Leigh. Charles Dickens also mentioned Fido in A Christmas Carol.

Moving into modern history, the first guide dog training schools opened in Germany after World War I for veterans who had been blinded by mustard gas. While walking his dog with a patient, Dr. Gerhard Stalling was abruptly summoned away, leaving the individual and his dog together. Upon returning, he was astonished to witness the canine assisting the human. Intrigued, Dr. Stalling further explored the concept, and went on to establish the first guide dog school in 1916. The school quickly expanded to include multiple facilities in cities such as Bonn, Breslau, Dresden, Essen, Hannover Freiburg, Hamburg, Magdeburg, and Münster. At its peak, the institutes were training up to 600 dogs each year. The pups were put to work assisting people from various countries including Britain, France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union. 

Why Is January 29th The Seeing Eye Dog’s Birthday?

The Seeing Eye Dog training school was established on January 29, 1929, thanks to a wealthy trainer named Dorothy Eustis. Eustis founded the school along with a blind man named Morris Frank. Frank had unfortunately lost vision in both his eyes. This happened at different times in his life, due to random accidents. (Interestingly, the same thing happened to his mother, who also lost the sight in her eyes to two unrelated incidents) 

After reading Eustis’s article about guide dogs, Frank reached out to her and requested she train a dog for him. Eustis accepted the request. Together, they trained an exceptional canine who was aptly named Buddy. When the trio arrived in New York City in 1928, the media was amazed to see Buddy helping Frank navigate busy streets. 

Can I Pet A Cute Guide Dog?

Guide dogs are actually under federal protection, so it’s illegal for you to interfere with their movements or concentration. Fido may be quite charming, but if he’s out and about, he’s working and needs to be fully focused on helping his owners. Never pet, interfere with, or interact with a service dog. (Note: there is one exception, which is if a service dog comes to you. That may signal that the dog’s owner is in trouble. Call 911 and, if you can do so safely, follow the dog.)

What Is the Training Process for Guide Dogs?

Training starts long before he meets his potential owners. Fido usually starts working around the age of one and a half. Once matched, they usually work until they are about ten, which is getting up there for a dog. When guide dogs retire, they are often paired with adoptive families. This may sound sad, but the owner—who is likely still in need—will be paired with another dog, while Fido goes on to enjoy his retirement.

What Can I Do To Support Seeing Eye Dogs?

This is an excellent cause to support. If you want to help out, consider making a donation to one of the wonderful organizations that train and support these Very Good Boys. Some of these organizations include See-Eye, Guide Dogs For The Blind, The Seeing Eye, and Guiding Eyes For The Blind. Your Hendersonville, NC veterinarian may also know of local ones.

Is your dog due for an appointment? Contact us here at your Hendersonville, NC pet hospital. We’re here to help!