Geneticist and Chief Instructor, Jack Humphrey, graduate, Dr. Raymond Harris with his Seeing Eye dog, Tartar, Adelaide Clifford, our first female instructor, graduate, Dr. Howard Buchanan with his Seeing Eye dog, Gala, and The Seeing Eye's first Executive Vice President, Willi Ebeling. Photo from seeingeye.org

Guide Dogs Around the World

Today marks a milestone in the history of companion animals, so it’s time for a history lesson.

Today is the 85th anniversary of the oldest seeing eye dog school in Northern America. The Seeing Eye opened their doors on January 29th, 1929, after renting an office for $15 a month in the Fourth and First National Bank Building in Nashville, Tennessee. The first class was comprised of Dr. Howard Buchanan and Dr. Raymond Harris, who were teamed with Shepherds Gala and Tartar.

Geneticist and Chief Instructor, Jack Humphrey, graduate, Dr. Raymond Harris with his Seeing Eye dog, Tartar, Adelaide Clifford, our first female instructor, graduate, Dr. Howard Buchanan with his Seeing Eye dog, Gala, and The Seeing Eye's first Executive Vice President, Willi Ebeling. Photo from seeingeye.org
Geneticist and Chief Instructor, Jack Humphrey, graduate, Dr. Raymond Harris with his Seeing Eye dog, Tartar, Adelaide Clifford, our first female instructor, graduate, Dr. Howard Buchanan with his Seeing Eye dog, Gala, and The Seeing Eye’s first Executive Vice President, Willi Ebeling. Photo from seeingeye.org

The Seeing Eye is the oldest guide dog school, but it was not the first. The first official school for guide dogs was opened in 1916 by Dr Gerhard Stalling, who aimed to help assist German soldiers who had been blinded in World War One. This school quickly grew to 10 locations, training up to 600 dogs a year. Until they closed in 1925 these dogs were provided to vision impaired people around the world, in Britain, France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Canada and the Soviet Union.

Around the world

  • In Australia the first guide dog school was established in Perth in 1951. The first Australian trained guide dog was Beau, a Kelpie-Fox Terrier cross.
  • In the United Kingdom the average working life of a guide dog is five to six years. As of 2013 there were over 4,700 guide dog owners in the UK.
  • The South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind was founded in 1953 by Gladys Evans. Gladys’ guide dog, Sheena (1950 – 1963), is considered the first guide dog in South Africa.
  • In the USA the average working life of a guide dog is seven to eight years.
  • In Israel in the seventies and eighties the only way for a blind person to access a guide dog was to travel to America. Since 1991 the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind has been training guide dogs to respond to commands in Hebrew.
  • There are over 240 working guide dogs in New Zealand. To become a guide dog in New Zealand puppies train for two years and have to pass 55 different tests.

There are thousands of guide dogs working around the world today, however in many countries guide dog trainers receive little to no government funding. Given the milestone The Seeing Eye is celebrating today I encourage you to find your local guide dog association and support them where you can.

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