A Legacy of Building Independence and Self-Sufficiency: The Seeing Eye

Seeing Eye dog in training, ca.1935. Collection of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.
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By Jeffrey V. Moy, North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

Founded eighty-eight years ago this week, the Seeing Eye works to help the blind achieve independence so that they can remain fully active members of the community. While living in Switzerland, Philadelphia dog breeder, Dorothy Harrison Eustis witnessed injured German World War I veterans using guide dogs to regain their freedom of movement and published her observations in a 1927 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. Inspired by her story, a twenty year old Tennessee resident, Morris Frank wrote Ms. Eustis: “Thousands of blind people like me abhor being dependent on others. Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own…”

Seeing Eye dog in training, ca.1935. Collection of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.
Seeing Eye dog in training, ca.1935. Collection of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.
Man on the streets of Morristown with a Seeing Eye dog, ca.1935. Collection of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.
Man on the streets of Morristown with a Seeing Eye dog, ca.1935. Collection of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.

Dorothy invited Mr. Frank to travel to Switzerland where he was paired with a dog (“Buddy”) and successfully trained to form an effective partnership. Dorothy, Morris and Buddy returned to the United States and in 1929 co-founded the Seeing Eye, which by the end of its first year had helped seventeen men and women achieve greater freedom through their Seeing Eye dogs. The organization moved to Whippany, NJ in 1931, and then to its current 60-acre Morristown headquarters in 1965, which continues to raise specially bred and professionally trained dogs who are then matched with qualified applicants.

Aerial view of the Seeing Eye's Whippany headquarters, ca.1940.
Aerial view of the Seeing Eye’s Whippany headquarters, ca.1940. Collection of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.

New Seeing Eye students pay a $150 fee for the cost of the month-long training plus room and board, transportation to and from Morristown, as well as the dog and equipment itself. This fee has remained the same since 1934 and although it represents a fraction of the program’s expenses (primarily supported through private donations and foundation gifts) it signifies a tangible commitment on the part of each student. Since it’s founding eighty-eight years ago, the Seeing Eye has partnered over 16,000 guide dogs with individuals who have gained greater independence and self-sufficiency, thus enabling them to become active contributing members of their communities.

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