No one knows when the concept of using assistance animals for the blind first came into being. It is suggested that dogs have been used in such a capacity in various cultures for a very long time. It is known, however, that there was no formal guide dog program in existence until after the First World War.
Why German Shepherds?
Many people have probably wondered why guide dogs and Seeing Eye dogs are so often German Shepherds. The reason is actually twofold. First of all 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. The other reason is far simpler; 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 the nation of Germany was devastated by financial depression. Many private businesses failed and the Potsdam, Germany school that trained the guide dogs for the blind was one of them.
An American woman named Dorothy Eustis had heard about the 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 had heard 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.
As part of an arrangement he’d made with Ms. Eustis, Mr. Frank 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. All of the people who have benefited from the use of a guide dog, however, owe their thanks to Mr. Morris Frank of Nashville, Tennessee.