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International Assistance Dog Week--August 2-8

The History of Assistance Dogs

World War I left its tragic mark on soldiers who fought for their countries. Some scars were physical, while others were ghosts that would haunt them forever. At a hospital in Germany, a blind soldier was being treated by Dr. Gerhard Stalling when a discovery was made. Dr. Stalling had left his German shepherd with the soldier briefly to attend to another patient. When Dr. Stalling returned, he noticed that his dog seemed to be caring for the soldier. This observation sparked an idea that would significantly impact the lives of individuals suffering from mobility, sensory, and other problems that hindered them from living independent lives.

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Before Dr. Stalling’s findings, the idea of dogs helping blind people originated in Paris, France, in the 18th century, at a hospital for the blind, Quinze-Vingt. At the beginning of the 19th century, Johann Wilhelm Klein wrote the first guide dog training manual in Vienna. Following Dr. Stalling’s discovery and his desire to help soldiers blinded by war, the first school for training guide dogs came to fruition in 1916. Other training schools followed in its wake. One school, run by the German Shepherd Association, in Potsdam, Germany, became the reason assistance dogs are in the United States today.

The First Assistance Dog In The United States

Dorothy Eustis, a Pennsylvanian, opened a dog training facility, Fortunate Fields, in Switzerland in 1923. She helped train dogs for the Swiss military and police. Mrs. Eustis heard about the special training program run by the German Shepherd Association in Potsdam, Germany, and it piqued her interest. That visit’s impact started the journey to bring assistance dogs to the United States. Mrs. Eustis wrote about her experience that was featured in The Evening Post in 1927, where a young, blind man, Morris Frank, heard about the “seeing eye” dogs. Mr. Frank wrote an imploring letter to Mrs. Eustis for one of these amazing dogs so that he might live independently. She responded by asking him to visit. Mr. Frank was paired with his own “seeing eye” dog, Buddy, who became the first seeing eye dog in the U.S. Upon his return home, Mr. Frank, along with Mrs. Eustis, founded The Seeing Eye school that is still in existence today in Morristown, New Jersey.


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