This past weekend while attending a men’s conference in New Jersey I happened to sit at breakfast with a blind man who introduced himself as Tony. We chatted a bit before Tony got up to excuse himself to attend the session that was about to start. As he did, his seeing eye dog (who had been seated underneath the table) also got up. The gentleman seated next to Tony asked the dog’s name as he began to pet him.
As he did, Tony leaned over and explained to the man that one shouldn’t pet a service dog while the dog is “working” without first asking the permission of the dog’s owner. The man apologized profusely. Tony told him not to worry about it and then excused himself to attend the meeting.
During one of the breaks in the morning session I sat down next to Tony, reintroduced myself and asked him about his dog and the etiquette around interacting with a seeing eye dog.
Tony proceeded to share with me that this was in fact his sixth dog. He then explained that there is a rigorous training process that begins when the dog is just a puppy to become a seeing eye dog. The training culminates with the dog and its handler going through a three-week long “in residency” training session where they learn to work together from 5:00 AM – 10:00 PM every day before they graduate and go home together.
I learned from my new friend Tony that while there are many guide dog schools around the country, The Seeing Eye school, headquartered in Morris Township, NJ established in 1927 is the oldest established guide dog school in the country.
If you’d like more information on the history of this fascinating organization please click on the link below to explore their website.