It’s no secret to dog owners that their canine buddies offer the best kind of therapy: unconditional love, endless affection, and constant companionship. These traits haven’t gone unnoticed by the social sciences who regularly recruit therapy dogs to provide support to the young and old in many different scenarios and applications.
Reportedly, labrador retrievers have been helping sight impaired people since the mid-16th century. After the First World War, the need for seeing eye dogs grew with so many soldiers returning home with sight injuries. The first training school for veterans and guide dogs was set up in Germany and caught the attention of American dog breeder and philanthropist, Dorothy Harrison Eustis. She saw the need for these therapy dogs and wrote about the school in a 1927 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.
The article received heaps of interest from Americans, and one 20-year-old in particular by the name of Morris Frank, who lost sight in both eyes by the age of 16. His mother had also been sight impaired so Frank understood the need for daily guidance. In 1928, Frank reached out to Eustis and travelled to her home in Switzerland to learn how to use a seeing eye dog. Together, they spread the word about guide dogs and helped to shatter previous notions about people living with disabilities.
Eustis founded The Seeing Eye organization that trained assistance animals and handlers. In 1929, Frank himself went onto to open the first Seeing Eye training school in America in his hometown of Nashville. For the next 28 years, he travelled across the U.S. and Canada raising awareness of the great services these companion dogs had to offer and fought to get public access granted to these wonderful canines.
Thanks to Eustis and Frank pioneering The Seeing Eye, these magnificent guide dogs are now accepted worldwide. In addition, therapy dogs are providing support for people with physical, mental and emotional, educational, motivational, and socialization challenges. These calm, affectionate creatures are doing what they do best and offering comfort and assistance where it’s needed most.