By Marion Filler
It takes a lot to deter Seeing Eye instructors and their dogs, a familiar sight around Morristown even in the worst weather.
But COVID-19 has succeeded where rain, snow and ice have not. By March 17, 2020, the nonprofit already had decided to keep the dogs at home at Seeing Eye headquarters in Washington Valley, Morris Township, with the expectation that they would be back in training by April 1.
It’s not happening. Not only has the date been extended indefinitely, but according to spokesperson Michelle Barlak, the kennels are being slowly emptied out to make sure the dogs have a loving home environment for the duration.
“Instructors and staff are getting records in order and transporting them to puppy raising families that have offered to take them,” Barlak said.
Two hundred canines are being relocated throughout New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
“Many of these dogs are going back to the puppy raisers who raised them,” said Barlak. The evacuation, a first for The Seeing Eye, should not affect the resumption of training after they return to Washington Valley, Barlak said.
In the meantime, The Seeing Eye has received calls from the public with concerns about distinguishing the instructors from graduates who live in town.
Since there no longer are any instructors in town, everyone you see with a guide dog is impaired. Social distancing will be the responsibility of the sighted community as neither the dog nor its master is aware of the mandatory six-foot spacing.
The Seeing Eye suggests the following:
- Always remember, distracting a Seeing Eye dog can make its owner vulnerable to harm.
- Guide dogs don’t understand social distancing. Please help keep a safe distance by staying six feet away.
- Please don’t let your pet near a guide dog, even if your pet is leashed. Even allowing your pet to visit or “say hi,” for just a moment, can cause the guide dog to lose focus on the important job he has to do.
- It’s helpful to let a person who is blind know that you are nearby and tell them if you have a dog with you.
- Do not pet the guide dog, call the dog’s name, make eye contact, feed or talk to the dog. It’s always best to treat the dog as if he is not there.
- Do not shout directions, take the person by the arm or interrupt them, especially when they are crossing the street. Always ask the person if they need help first.
About The Seeing Eye
Established in 1929, The Seeing Eye provides specially bred and trained dogs to guide people who are blind. Seeing Eye dog users experience greatly enhanced mobility and independence, allowing them to retain their active lifestyles despite blindness. The Seeing Eye is a 501(c)(3) non-profit supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, bequests, and other planned gifts. The Seeing Eye name is only used to describe dogs trained at the school’s facilities in Morristown, N.J. For more information: www.SeeingEye.org, (973) 539-4425, firstname.lastname@example.org.