Although they’re now an inextricable part of so many of our lives, no one knows exactly where and when humans first domesticated dogs. The conclusions of even the most recent studies are in stark conflict, but we can safely place the “consensus” of the time of first domestication at somewhere between 10,000 and 32,000 years ago. Whether you take the high end or the low end of that range, that’s thousands of years before recorded history even began.
So it’s rather remarkable to realize that the blind have only been using guide dogs for about 100 years. And it’s perhaps just as remarkable that that revolution probably wouldn’t have occurred without the efforts of one, lone man.
In 1927, a blind, American teenager named Morris Frank encountered a report about a small number of dogs being trained to guide World War I veterans in Europe.
When he contacted the pioneering dog trainer in question, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American living in Switzerland, she agreed to help. The following year, Frank returned home from Switzerland with his newly trained dog, Buddy, and, in front of a crowd of invited reporters, navigated bustling New York City streets with only the help of his new companion. The event was a success and the guide dog revolution was underway.
On January 29, 1929, Frank officially founded America’s first guide dog school, The Seeing Eye, in Nashville, Tennessee. Today, The Seeing Eye (now located in New Jersey) stands as the oldest still existing guide dog school in the world, and plays an important role in not just dog training, but also canine genetics, disease control, and public policy related to blindness.
For more vintage service dogs, check out Sergeant Stubby, World War I’s most decorated dog soldier, and the dog belonging to World War II commander General Patton.