Buddy, the First Seeing Eye Dog
“Buddy delivered to me the divine gift of freedom,” said Morris Frank (1908-1980), the first American to benefit from a Seeing Eye dog.
Before there were guide dogs, people with any type of disability–including a visual disability–were simply marginalized. There were no provisions for them to be in public or hold jobs–they were totally dependent on others for whatever they needed.
Prior to having a guide dog, Morris Frank, who lost the use of one eye in a childhood accident and the other in a boxing match at the age of 16, hired a boy guide but the fellow “got bored easily” and occasionally left Frank alone to unexpectedly fend for himself.
In 1927 The Saturday Evening Post ran an article by Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American dog breeder living in Switzerland who was training German shepherds to work as police dogs. Though Eustis had been asked to write about her own program, she instead wrote about a guide dog program in Potsdam, Germany where the dogs were being trained to be the eyes for German World War I veterans who had lost their sight because of mustard gas.
Frank’s father read the article to him, and Frank, who was 19 at the time, wrote to the article’s author begging her to train a dog to help him. Eustis took on the challenge. She invited Frank to come to Switzerland and since she was new at the process, began working with two dogs so they would have a choice of which dog was going to work out better. Both dogs were female, and the one that proved most suitable was named Kiss. Frank quickly renamed her as he felt a 20-year-old fellow should not own a dog named Kiss.
In 1928 Frank returned to the United States, disembarking from a ship in New York City. Buddy proved adept at guiding him through a throng of reporters and, on a dare from one of the newspapermen, Frank instructed Buddy to take him across West Street, which was filled with taxi cabs and trucks. Frank worried that he was expecting Buddy to handle more chaos than he had faced in training, but they made it.
Later that day, Frank sent a one-word telegram to Eustis: “Success.” And that was the beginning of Frank’s campaign “to get Buddy accepted all over America with no more fuss than if she were a cane.”
In 1936, Morris Frank sat down with The New York Times for an interview about his work on behalf of the visually impaired. At that point, 250 dogs were helping owners in the U.S. and Frank had logged 50,000 miles by foot, train, subway, bus, and boat to meet with people and demonstrate the life-changing aspect of having a guide dog.
By 1938, Frank knew that Buddy’s health was failing, but they had one more task to accomplish: Together, the two of them needed to be permitted to fly on a commercial airplane. That spring, on May 16, 1938, Frank, with Buddy lying at his feet, flew from Chicago to Newark. The trip was made under a newly implemented ruling by United Air Lines that “grants to all Seeing Eye dogs the privilege of riding with their masters in the cabins of any of their regularly scheduled planes.”
Buddy the Second
Even Buddy II proved newsworthy, and an obituary appeared about his death on October 3, 1948.
For ten years Buddy II guided Frank, who was then vice president of the Seeing Eye School, to and from his office as well as on trips overseas. The obituary read: “During the last war alone he guided his master on travels of over 49,000 miles, when Mr. Frank lectured at Army and Navy hospitals on Seeing Eye dogs for the blind.”
In describing how much Buddy brought to his job, Frank is quoted as saying that when Buddy was posing for television he “…would lick his paws…” in preparation for the appearance. And to the end, Buddy liked to conclude his work day with a roll on the floor and a romp with Mr. Frank.
Buddy II was to be buried next to the grave of Buddy I on the grounds of The Seeing Eye School.
For more information on this program which is as vital today as when Morris Frank needed his first dog, refer to the Seeing Eye website, or read the story Dorothy Eustis and how she and Morris Frank launched an industry in “The First Seeing Eye Dog Used in America.“
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