Monday, January 10, 2005

Apple #23: Seeing Eye Dogs

SEEING EYE DOGS, or Guide Dogs for the Blind

I recently helped a blind man find some things in a store. He had a dog with him, but the man was looking for things on the shelf, and of course the dog was no help with that. Then when the blind man was ready to leave the store, he told the dog to lead him out, but the store was busy and the dog seemed to be overwhelmed by all the people and the stuff in the store, and the dog wasn't really leading anywhere, just sort of walking dazed. So I walked them both to the door.
  • The first systematic effort to train dogs to help blind people was in 1780, in a Paris hospital for the blind. Then, during the First World War, a German doctor left his dog alone with a blind man when he was urgently called away. When he returned, he got the distinct impression that his dog was looking after the blind man. So he began what became a series of schools throughout Germany that trained dogs to help men blinded in the War.
  • Generally, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and sometimes mixed breeds are trained to be guide dogs. These breeds are known for their stable temperament, their sociability with people, and their ability to respond to commands.
  • Depending on the institute responsible for training the dogs, a dog may be bred especially to become a guide dog. As puppies, they are trained to be obedient and sociable. Then before they are 2, they attend a four-month course of specialized guide-dog training. After the dog successfully completes this training, the dog is then matched with a blind person, and the two work together with a sighted person for about 3 weeks to get used to each other.
  • Dogs are color-blind and have no idea when traffic lights change. Their owners learn to listen for changes in traffic patterns to know when it's safe to cross the street. Then they will tell the dog, "Forward," and the dog will begin walking across the street.
  • Only dogs trained by The Seeing Eye Inc., in Morristown, New Jersey, are supposed to be called "seeing eye dogs." Otherwise, they're called guide dogs or leader dogs.
  • Volunteers can help by going to guide dog schools to feed or walk or pet the puppies and get them used to new people. Some schools also allow volunteers to raise puppies that will eventually be trained to become guide dogs.
  • People who want to train guide dogs for a living undergo a three-year apprenticeship before receiving their license.
  • Some schools charge as little as $150 for a dog. Some schools provide the dogs free of charge.
Here are some recommendations for what to do when you meet someone who is blind and how to treat his or her guide dog. Some of the things I did right, some of the things I didn't do too well.

Also, when I was maybe 14, I read this book, Light a Single Candle, about a girl who goes blind because of glaucoma and she has to go to blind school, which is awful, and then she gets a guide dog. I know it's a young adult book, but it was written by a woman who is herself blind, and the descriptions of what it's like to be blind make it seem like it's not that foreign an experience, and the whole process of how she gets a guide dog I found really interesting.

The Seeing Eye Inc.'s FAQs
Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc Obtaining a Guide Dog FAQs
International Guide Dog Federation History
Guide Dogs for the Blind Training

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