By Ralph Greco, Jr.
Located in the suburban enclave of historic Morristown New Jersey, The Seeing Eye®, Inc. is the world’s oldest working guide dog school. Mentioned by Jose Feliciano in a recent concert he gave just down the road from it, as many as twenty-four students at a time visit this institution founded by Morris Frank in 1929.
Students ranging in age from sixteen to sixty (and beyond), from all over the US and Canada, spend up to a month training with their Seeing Eye dog, knowing that when they leave with their dog they also leave with a sense of independence unparalleled for the vision-impaired.
A dog doesn’t pop out of its litter as a Seeing Eye dog. Until he or she is ready for one-on-one training with a student, the pooch often becomes a member of a “foster family.” This community outreach sees families from all over New Jersey participating in a program started back in 1942 in conjunction with the 4-H and its puppy raising clubs.
Dogs are taken into a home for a period of eighteen months to two years, during which there are weekly meetings held by the Seeing Eye dog’s family’s group leader. During this foster period, The Seeing Eye covers all of the foster pet’s medical expenses and provides the foster family a quarterly stipend to cover the dog’s food.
“Socialization” is the primary focus, and foster families are encouraged to take their pet to meet people, and into as many public places as possible. Fortunately, these days most public establishments support Seeing Eye dog training.
The foster family is also encouraged to maintain consistency between verbal commands used at the school and with the dog at home, as well asked that a potential Seeing Eye dog always be walked on the left. Other then these few rules, the foster family mostly teaches basic commands and integrates the dog as they would any other.
Not every dog that returns after living with a family passes as a Seeing Eye dog, though. If the dog fails as a candidate — which is not a reflection on the pup’s intelligence or friendliness — the foster family is given first adoption rights with no payment required if they want the dog to be a permanent member of their household.
If the foster family doesn’t want to adopt the by now well-trained and well-socialized dog, then it is put onto a waiting list. And though lots of people want puppies, there is no shortage of folks who want dogs from The Seeing Eye’s adoption list.
In addition to their regular classes and their unique foster program, The Seeing Eye holds fund-raisers, like their Gran Fondo New Jersey Weekend Walk, Run and Ride in September, as well as a motorcycle charity ride in October.
Founded in 1929, The Seeing Eye, Inc. is now in its 83rd year of fulfilling its mission, which is to enhance the independence, dignity, and self-confidence of blind people through the use of these unique Seeing Eye dogs.