Going to the Dogs

August 10, 2011

Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator

Pilgrim, a Seeing Eye Dog in training

You may know that our office building is in downtown Morristown—a great place for delicious lunch spots, people watching on the Green and shopping.  What you may not know is that The Seeing Eye has a training “hub” in our building.  Every day—rain or shine—trainers, dogs and students embark from our building onto the streets of Morristown—their very own urban classroom.  (Sorry for the pun. It won’t be the last.)

Some of us were curious about how The Seeing Eye trains dogs, and what their work, ahem, entails.  We decided to visit The Seeing Eye campus just a few miles out of town and sniff out the situation.

The Seeing Eye began in 1927 as a partnership between Morris Frank and Dorothy Harrison Eustis. Morris had been frustrated by his own lack of mobility as a blind person.  Dorothy had been training German Shepherds in Europe and had no real intention of starting a new venture. Together they took dog training methods used for blinded veterans of World War I, and brought these techniques to the United States in order to make the world accessible to people who are blind.   I wonder if either of them realized what a gift they would give to world with their work.

Morris Frank with his first dog Buddy.  After a difficult journey to Europe, Morris looks a little down.

Morris Frank with another dog Buddy.  (All his dogs were named Buddy!)  Morris’ confidence is visible.

We had the opportunity to meet a client of The Seeing Eye, Michele, and her German Shepherd Tizzie.  Michele shared about her relationship with her dogs (she’s had 6 or 7).  “I have part of what Tizzie and I need to be a good team—I know where to go, I can hear and I can feel things.   Tizzie has the rest of what we need—her vision and her training–to get us there safely. It is 100% a team effort.”

In fact, everything The Seeing Eye does is a partnership—families raise puppies to help them become happy, well-adjusted dogs who will learn to be guide dogs.  The trainers work in teams to support each other.  The clients are paired with dogs according to their temperament, activity level and environment so that both teammates can thrive.  Even the volunteers who led our tour worked as a team.  Every step of the way, the relationships are the keys to success.

We thank The Seeing Eye for reminding us about the great strides—literal and figurative–that can be made with teamwork.  More information about The Seeing Eye, and their free tours can be found here.