History of Guide Dogs for the Blind
This is the third of our blog posts about Verity Smith, our Para Dressage Rider who is heading to Rio 2016. Equus is thrilled to be able to bring you exclusive news about Verity's journey. This article is all about the history of guide dogs...
The first special relationship between a dog and a blind person is lost in the mists of time, but perhaps the earliest known example is depicted in a first-century AD mural in the buried ruins of Roman Herculaneum. From the Middle Ages, too, a wooden plaque survives showing a dog leading a blind man with a leash.
However, there have been numerous systematic attempts to train dogs to aid blind people as far back as the late 1700s. Then, in the early 19th century, the Institute for the Education of the Blind was created in Vienna along with the concept of a guide dog for blind people. Unfortunately, no records exist of his ideas ever actually having been realised.
Fast forward to the First World War, when thousands of soldiers returned home from the Front blinded, often by poison gas. A German doctor had the idea of training dogs en masse to help those affected. While walking with a patient one day through the hospital grounds, he was called away urgently and left his dog with the patient as company. When he returned, he got the distinct impression from the way the dog was behaving that it was looking after the blind patient. He opened the world’s first guide dog school for the blind. The school grew and new branches opened throughout Germany providing dogs not only to ex-servicemen but also to blind people in Britain, France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Canada and the Soviet Union.
Sadly, the venture had to shut down in 1926 but it was around this time, a wealthy American, Dorothy Eustis, was already training dogs for the army, police and customs service in Switzerland. It was her energy and expertise that was to properly launch the guide dog movement internationally. She wrote an article about the subject for the Saturday Evening Post in America in October 1927. A blind American man heard about the article and wrote to her, telling her that he would very much like to help introduce guide dogs to the United States. Taking up the challenge, Dorothy trained a dog, Buddy, brought Frank over to Switzerland and taught him how to work with the dog. Frank went back to the States with what many believe to be America’s first guide dog.
In 1930, two British women, heard about the work that Dorothy Eustis had done. She sent over one of her trainers to work with them and in 1931, the first four British guide dogs completed their training and three years later The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded.
Since then, guide dog schools have opened all round the world. Thousands of people have had their lives transformed by guide dogs and the organisations that provide them. The commitment of the people who work for these organisations is as deep today as it ever was and they continue to work for the increased mobility, dignity and independence of blind and partially-sighted people all over the world.
Our own Verity Smith, international para dressage rider, is looked after wonderfully by the delightful and dedicated Uffa. You can watch his video blog, in which he introduces himself, here.