|Dorothy Harrison Eustis - 1927 Saturday Evening Post|
|Dorothy Harrison Eustis - 1927 Saturday Evening Post|
Saturday Evening Post, Nov. 5, 1927, p. 43.
The Seeing Eye by Dorothy Harrison Eustis
To everyone, I think, there is always something particularly pathetic about a blind man. Shorn of his strength and his independence, he is a prey to all the sensitiveness of his position and he is at the mercy of all with whom he comes in contact. The sensitiveness, above all, is an almost insuperable obstacle to cope with in his fight for a new life, for life goes on willy-nilly and the new conditions must be reckoned with. In darkness and uncertainty he must start again, wholly dependent on outside help for every move. His other senses may rally to his aid, but they cannot replace his eyesight. To man's never failing friend has been accorded this special privilege. Gentlemen, I give you the German shepherd dog.
Because of their extraordinary intelligence and fidelity, Germany has chosen her own breed of shepherd dog to help her in the rehabilitation of her war blind, and in the lovely city of Potsdam she has established a very simple and business-like school for training her dogs as blind leaders. Inclosed in a high board fence, the school consists of dormitories for the blind, kennels for the dogs and quarters for the teachers, the different buildings framing a large park laid out in sidewalks and roads with curbs, steps, bridges and obstacles of all kinds, such as scaffoldings, barriers, telegraph poles and ditches -- everything in fact that the blind man has to cope with in everyday life.
Many Dogs and No Fights
Three forces work together to make this school the model that it has become: The German Government, the Shepherd Dog Club of Germany and the association of war-blinded soldiers. The latter is a splendid organization of some 3000 men which strives continually and successfully to keep its members in work and above pity or charity and out of the class of beggars and peddlers. The government furnishes the land for the school and further grants each blind man a subsidy for his dog's keep after he has left the school.
The dogs are supplied by the Shepherd Dog Club of Germany and are either donated or bought at the lowest price compatible with the qualities they must have, for these blind leaders are the distant cousins and the cinderellas of famous show dogs; they not only have the goods but they deliver them in the shape of courage, intelligence and service. The total cost of a dog, trained and ready to leave the school, is about sixty dollars, which includes the initial cost of the dog.
They must be young and healthy, with quiet, steady nerves and a good character. As a whole, they are a very nice looking lot, especially when you take into consideration that not more than ten or twelve dollars has been paid for one of them. Moreover, they have a certain expression in their eyes, a sturdiness and interest which is too often lacking in their fashionable cousins. As the qualities of courage and intelligence are characteristics of the German shepherd dog wherever he is found unspoiled by intensive show breeding, it is not so hard to collect groups of these leaders for the blind as it would seem, and after a few simple tests to prove he is fit for the service, the new recruit can go to work, and all his work is founded on obedience.
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle,
Life in a Big City
In the beginning, all schooling went on in the park; but it was soon found that a dog might work perfectly there and be of no use in the bustle and distraction of a city, so the park was given over to obedience exercises and the advanced classes were moved into the city itself. From the moment a dog wears the leading harness his schooling is done under actual working conditions. He must go at a fast walk so that the slackening in his gait for an obstacle is instantly felt through the rigid handle of his harness. For curbs he pulls back and stands still so that his master can find the edge with his cane; for steps, approaching traffic and all obstacles barring progress, he sits down; and for trees, letter boxes, scaffoldings, pedestrians, he leans away from his man, who follows the pull and so is led safely around. He learns the direction commands of right, left and forward, and to pick up anything his master drops. He is taught to protect his master from violence and this instinct develops in bounds after he finally wins through to his own blind master. He must be ever watchful and protective, but never aggressive, and it is that quality of perfect balance in instruction that is the success at Potsdam.
He passes gradually from the lower to the higher grades of work and is not given advanced problems before he has mastered the simpler ones. His head is not bothered about approaching traffic, pedestrians or obstacles until he is ready for them. They are the higher mathematics of his course. His first days are spent learning to sit down before every curb. This later develops into half sitting down or pulling back, but in the beginning it is very definitely sitting down and having the curb brought to his attention. After a few days he is allowed to make the mistake of crossing without signaling. Then the teacher stumbles against the curb exactly as a blind man would and instantly corrects the dog, making him sit down in the proper place.
The Graduating Class
As he progresses in one exercise another is added, so that one by one he learns always to keep the middle of the sidewalk, to cross directly from one curb to another, to keep a slight pull on the harness handle and not to dawdle. Gradually he is warned from pedestrians and it becomes second nature for him to skirt them. Finally he learns his duty in street traffic, and the different strands of his education have been woven together into the finished fabric, each strand in its place and giving support to the whole.
Then, too, there is the difficulty of accustoming the dog to his new master. In the four months of school he has become attached to his teacher and works perfectly for him and he is puzzled and thrown off by the exchange. The first days with the new master are difficult. The blind man is nervous, distrustful and supercritical, as well he might be. The dog works unevenly, often looking back at his old teacher, and the blind man has a disturbed mental picture that this is the way he is always going to be led and he states his opinion in no uncertain terms.
This is all class work, as the man's real schooling commences with the practical work of brushing, feeding and making friends with the dog that has been assigned to him. On the man's arrival at the school the dog leaves the kennel where he has lived for four months and comes to live with his master in the dormitory. This helps enormously to smooth over the strangeness and difficulties of the first few days, as after kennel life the dog feels that he belongs to someone and the man dimly feels his companionship. The dog's home is under his master's bed and he instantly takes charge of all his master's property. Nothing can be touched or taken away without permission, and so from the first day his master has the feeling of protection -- a new little flutter of comfort that starts the ball rolling along the path of hope in the future.
A Guide to Freedom
The proud young scholar now turns teacher and through the same streets which have so lately served as schoolrooms, with the help of his own instructor, he teaches his new master the technic of a lead dog and shows him how he can guide him safely and surely. The course is all carried out in an atmosphere of cheeriness, confidence and security, and in two or three weeks even the most faltering has learned his dog's signals. Every day, under the direction of a teacher, the blind scholar carries on his dog's lessons in speaking, fetching and carrying, so that he may learn to put command into his voice -- a quality sadly lacking since his blindness -- and to gain authority over his dog, it being a proved fact that the dog knows the man is blind.
A comparison of the men completing their course with those just commencing is the proof. The men arrive forlorn, with lined, anxious faces and drooping bodies, thin or over-fat from inertia. In four short weeks they are remade; life takes on a new interest; shoulders lose their droop, backs straighten up and feet forget to shuffle. The thin have won back their appetite through their daily exercising walks and have put on weight and muscle, and the fat ones have trained down. Occasionally, a chuckle is heard which is the opening wedge for a laugh, just as the birds' early morning twitter presages the full song to the sun.
An Afternoon Stroll
The dogs were running loose and romping about in the park for their half hour before working as I stood near by talking with Mr. Liese, the director. I had come to the school a skeptic, but he laughingly excused me on the ground that I belonged to the majority. I had seen so many so-called trained dogs which, put to the test, did mediocre work accompanied by many excuses that I was more or less prepared to hear reasons for poor work. I had expected possibly to see an instructor with eyes bandaged give an exhibition with one special dog to the running accompaniment of: "He's off his work today -- didn't eat this morning; he was not exercised yesterday; that's funny, he usually does that perfectly; there must be something distracting him: and so on -- all kinds of incidents that would go to prove my contention that, intelligent and full of courage as this grand breed of dogs is, it is too much to ask of him to take the entire responsibility of a blind man's life.
I quickly asked permission to follow him on his walk, first getting a few details about him. He had never before owned a dog, and since his blindness had been led everywhere by a member of his family; on arriving at the school he had been particularly nervous, helpless and lacking in confidence. He was a man of about forty-five, thickset and husky, who had evidently been accustomed to lots of exercise and had become overfat through lack of it. He passed us whistling through his teeth and feeling for a cigarette, his dog looking us over with an appraising eye. I turned quietly and followed. Walking at a good pace, the pair went down the street to the first crossing, where the dog pulled back to indicate the curb. The man's cigarette was apparently his last, as he gave orders to be led to the tobacco shop, went in, made his purchases and then continued his walk.
The walk lay through the crowded shopping street with all the traffic of a big city, its noises and distractions, its scents and stray dogs on mischief or business bent. Understanding responsibility and never-failing protection radiated from that blind leader as he went about his work. His attitude was, "You mind your business and I'll mind mine," as he threaded his way along the street, and the pair went much more quickly without interference than I, who continually bumped into people in my efforts to keep up. I was amazed at the pace; I had started by walking briskly, but found the distance ever widening between us and the need to make it up every so often on a jog trot.
An Intelligence Test
Captain Schoenherr, of the Instruction School for Police Dogs at Gruenheide, was with me and he invited the man to take a glass of beer with us, which he accepted very pleasantly. Picking up his harness handle and his cane, he gave the dog the order to follow Captain Schoenherr, who, to test him, took a curving course between the tables. Step for step and curve for curve, the dog followed him, saw her master safely into his chair and lay down quietly beside him. The man told us that he had had her for three years and only once in all that time had she run him into anything, and then he said it was largely his own fault.
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