May 8 Luncheon Program: Mike Karnish and Rumor describe The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ.
When a blind woman was asked what it was like to have a guide dog she replied, “I feel like I am flying – I have never walked faster, never been more confident, and go anywhere I want to go.” Having a guide dog is life-changing for blind people.
The Seeing Eye was founded in 1929. In the mid-1920s, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a philanthropist from Philadelphia learned about a guide dog program in Europe and she spent time there learning about it. After a few years, she wrote a magazine article titled “The Seeing Eye.” She took the name from the Bible, Proverbs 20:12. A father in Tennessee read the article to his blind son, who then travelled to Europe to get a dog. Morris Frank was given a dog named Buddy. They walked around New York City in 1928 to prove the concept. He returned to Tennessee where he founded the Seeing Eye with Miss Eustis. After that they moved the Seeing Eye to Whippany, NJ and a few years later to the present location in Morristown, NJ. And now, the Seeing Eye will soon give its 16,000th dog to a blind partner.
Twenty-four blind clients are paired with a dog during each of 12 classes held every year at the Morristown campus. There are four breeds: Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and crosses between Goldens and Labs. The Seeing Eye breeds, raises and trains all the dogs. Four hundred puppies were born last year. Volunteer families raise and socialize the puppies until they are about 16 months old. The dogs then return to the Seeing Eye to be trained for about 4 months. Dogs “live in the moment” so they don’t miss the person who raised them. The blind partner owns the dog at graduation. The Seeing Eye pays for everything in the process, although they do charge the blind person a $150 one-time fee for the first dog, $50 for replacements.
When the dog has its harness on, it is a working guide dog. When the harness is removed, the dog turns into a regular pet dog. It is like turning a switch on and off. The dogs have a great life, they love their work and they love their partner.
The dogs are bred and trained to use “intelligent disobedience”. They will not do something they are ordered to do if they believe it is the wrong thing to do. For example, a dog will not lead its partner into dangerous street traffic.
There are more dogs trained than partners so that the Seeing Eye can choose the right dog for each partner. Two important considerations are pull and pace. Sometimes, a dog is not placed and the leaves the program to live as a regular pet dog. Rumor was not placed with a partner and she was given to Mike. She is now a certified ambassador from the Seeing Eye and accompanies Mike when he gives talks.
The cost per dog is about $68,000. Dogs live for eight to ten years. Many blind people need replacement dogs over their lifetime. Dogs don’t make mistakes. They save the lives of their partners on a regular basis.
Members of the audience applauded and thanked Mike for his very informative talk, which was illustrated with descriptive, captivating stories. Please visit the Seeing Eye Website to learn more.