On Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that officially designates the Seeing Eye® dog as the state dog of New Jersey.
The Seeing Eye is a pioneer of the guide dog industry, paving the way for acceptance of assistance animals in society and around the globe.
Morris Frank was 6 years old when he lost the vision in his left eye after a horseback riding accident. Ten years later, he became completely blind when a boxing match claimed his right eye. In 1927, when Frank was a 20-year old student at Vanderbilt University, his father read to him a newspaper article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. The article, entitled “The Seeing Eye”, was written by an American dog trainer named Dorothy Harrison Eustis who, while living in Switzerland witnessed how veterans who’d lost their sight in World War I were being assisted by dogs.
A very independent man, Frank had for many years been frustrated at his need to rely on other men to guide him around. He immediately wrote to Eustis who arranged for him to come to Switzerland and meet one of these amazing dogs. In 1928, Morris Frank became the first American to be presented with a trained seeing eye dog, a female German Shepherd named “Buddy.”
Frank spent 30 days in Switzerland with Eustis, learning to work with Buddy, bonding with her, and learning to trust that she could safely navigate him through even the busiest city streets. It was during their time together that Frank and Eustis agreed to bring seeing eye dogs to other impaired Americans. Eustis agreed to provide financial backing for the endeavor – under two conditions: one, it would have to be proven that guide dogs could help the blind navigate through busy city streets, and two, that the public would need to be educated to allow guide dogs in all public spaces.
Frank created The Seeing Eye, the first institution in America that trained guide dogs for the blind. With Buddy by his side, the pair were instrumental in the creation and passing of American access laws that would become the foundation for today’s American’s With Disabilities Act service dog laws.
Today, all Seeing Eye dogs are born and trained in New Jersey before they are placed with people who are blind across the United States and Canada.
“As The Seeing Eye wraps up its 90th anniversary year, we are so honored that the great state of New Jersey has recognized the important role that Seeing Eye® dogs have in the lives of the people who raise, train and own them,” said Seeing Eye President & CEO Glenn Hoagland. “When our non-profit was founded, few people believed dogs could contribute to the health and wellness of humankind in the myriad of ways they do today. The work of our founders paved the way for acceptance of assistance animals in society, eventually leading to their incorporation into the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The bill was introduced by Senator Anthony R. Bucco; after his death, it was shepherded by his son, Senator Anthony M. Bucco, and passed the New Jersey Senate and Assembly with unanimous bipartisan support.
“My father and I shared a passion for the work of The Seeing Eye organization and its mission to increase the independence of those who are blind and visually impaired,” said Senator Anthony M. Bucco. “This was one of the last bills that we worked on together prior to his passing. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to my father than the signing of this legislation which encapsulates his deeply held belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to live with dignity and respect.”
Established in 1929, The Seeing Eye provides specially bred and trained dogs to guide people who are blind. Seeing Eye dog users experience greatly enhanced mobility and independence, allowing them to retain their active lifestyles despite blindness. The Seeing Eye is a 501(c)3 non-profit supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, bequests, and other planned gifts.