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Seeing Eye Dogs: Celebrating Some Amazing Dogs

January 15, 2024

January 29th is the Seeing Eye Guide Dog’s official celebration day! These very good boys have helped thousands of people with visual impairments live independently. A local veterinarian discusses guide dogs in this article from Fairfield Animal Hospital, your Cypress, TX pet hospital.

How Can Guide Dogs Help Their Owners?

Guide dogs are truly remarkable! They provide assistance to their human partners in a multitude of ways. These range from crossing busy streets and navigating obstacles to safely traversing uneven surfaces like curbs and hills. They also adeptly navigate around things like parking meters, lamp posts, manholes, and low-hanging awnings or branches. Additionally, these clever canines can assist their humans with entering and exiting buildings or rooms, locating elevators, and finding vacant seating areas. Fido can also retrieve specific items, such as mail, medication, or even a coat.

Guide dogs generally use a variety of methods and steps to help their owners. The exact methods vary, depending on the task they are performing. However, intelligent disobedience is paramount. What does that mean? Unlike most trained dogs, guide dogs aren’t always supposed to obey commands. If a guide dog spots a potential hazard, he will not go forward. These guys often stop or sit to alert their owners when approaching a curb, stairwell, or another obstacle. 

What Is The Difference Between Guide Dogs And Seeing Eye Dogs?

First things first: the term “Seeing Eye Dog” is a trademark and should only be used for dogs trained by The Seeing Eye. Dogs from other schools should be referred to as guide dogs. Otherwise, the two terms mean the same thing. 

However, there is a distinct difference between guide dogs and therapy dogs or emotional support animals. Guide dogs fall under the category of service dogs, and receive legal protection at a federal level. They are allowed to accompany their owners in most places.

What Breeds Make Good Guide Dogs?

Many different breeds excel as guide dogs. These include some very popular pups, like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Other breeds that do well in this area include Border Collies, Standard Poodles, Australian Shepherds, Boxers, Airedales, and Vizslas. The allergy-friendly Labradoodle and Goldendoodle also often work in this line, despite not being recognized by the AKC. 

How Much Does A Guide Dog Cost?

Fido’s training and care costs can reach $50,000 annually during his working years. While Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance plans do not typically cover these costs, individuals may be able to use FSAs or HSAs. Other funding options include crowdfunding, grants, and personal savings or loans. Some individual institutions may also offer other options, though exact details and requirements would, of course, vary.

When Did Seeing Eye Dogs Become A Thing?

The first specialized schools for guide dogs emerged in the early twentieth century. However, it has been noted that these loyal dogs have aided the visually impaired for centuries. In fact, there is evidence suggesting that our canine companions have been fulfilling this vital role for over two millennia. Artifacts found in the ruins of Herculaneum, a Roman town destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E., show a dog guiding a blind person. Similarly, historical documents from Asia and Europe, some dating back to the Middle Ages, also portray similar depictions of dogs assisting individuals.

Moving closer to the modern day, Elizabeth Barret Browning mentioned guide dogs in Aurora Leigh, a 19th-century work of fiction. There’s also an old alphabet rhyme that says: ‘B was a blind led by a dog.’ Charles Dickens also mentioned Fido in A Christmas Carol.

Fast forwarding even more takes us to the years just after World War I, when the first guide dog training schools were established in Germany for veterans blinded by mustard gas. There’s an interesting story behind this. Dr. Gerhard Stalling was called away unexpectedly while he was taking a walk with his dog and a patient. He rushed off, briefly leaving the individual and his canine companion alone. Upon his return, he was amazed to see that his pup was apparently helping the blind person. 

Fascinated by this observation, Dr. Stalling delved further into the idea. He founded the first guide dog school in 1916. The school quickly expanded, establishing facilities in cities like Bonn, Breslau, Dresden, Essen, Freiburg, Hamburg, Magdeburg, Münster, and Hannover. At its peak, the institutes were training up to 600 dogs annually, assisting individuals from Britain, France, Spain, Italy, the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union.

What Is The Significance Of January 29th For Seeing Eye Dogs?

It’s an anniversary! The Seeing Eye Dog training school was founded on January 29, 1929, by Dorothy Eustis, who was a wealthy dog trainer, and a man named Morris Frank. Frank had lost vision in both of his eyes, though at different times and due to unrelated accidents: an encounter with a branch and a boxing match. (Interestingly, his mother also experienced the same misfortune, losing sight in one eye during childbirth and the other after a fall.) 

After reading Eustis’s article about guide dogs, Frank contacted her and asked for help in training a dog. Eustis agreed, and they successfully trained a pooch named Buddy, who was truly an exceptional canine. When they arrived in New York City in 1928, the media was astonished to see Buddy assisting Frank on busy streets.

Can I Pet Guide Dogs?

The answer to this one is a resounding No. Guide dogs are protected by the federal government. If you interfere with their movements or concentration, you are breaking the law. This is also a matter of common courtesy. While Fido may look adorable, he’s working and needs to be fully focused on helping his owners. 

As a rule of thumb, you should never pet, interfere with, or interact with a service dog. There is one exception, which would be if a service dog approaches you. That may indicate that its owner is in distress. Call 911 immediately. If it’s possible to do so safely, follow the dog.

How Are Guide Dogs Trained?

The training process for Fido to become a guide dog is quite long. The process of pairing a dog with his human can also take quite a while. It’s absolutely crucial to make the right match! Usually, Fido will start work around the age of one and a half. There is a transitional stage, as the pups move from working with their trainers to working with their humans. 

Once they are on the job, guide dogs usually work until they reach the age of ten, which is quite old for a dog. When a guide dog retires, he is usually adopted into a family. Although this may sound sad, it’s best for both parties. The owner will be paired up with another dog, while Fido enjoys his doggy retirement.

How Can I Support Seeing Eye Dogs?

You can help by making a donation to one of the wonderful organizations that train and support these amazing dogs, or even by sharing links on social media. There are many excellent organizations, including Guide Dogs For The Blind, The Seeing Eye, and Guiding Eyes For The Blind. Your Cypress, TX vet may also know of local ones.

Please contact us here at Fairfield Animal Hospital, your Cypress, TX animal clinic, for all of your furry pal’s veterinary care needs. We’re here to help! 

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