This Day in History (25-Apr-1928) – Buddy, a German Shepherd, becomes 1st guide dog for a US citizen Morris Frank

Morris Frank was a blind man from Nashville. His father read him an article by Dorothy Eustis, a woman living in Switzerland who had seen shepherds training dogs to lead blind people get around. Excited by the idea, Frank wrote a letter to Eustis and received a response letter 30 days later inviting him to come see for himself. Frank then took a ship to Europe and trained extensively with a dog that had been bred specifically to lead a blind person. The training was hard, but after weeks with the dog, Frank could get around the nearby Swiss village holding tightly to a harness to which Buddy was strapped.

Morris Frank returned to America. From the day he got off the ship, he was successful. At one point, in front of a group of dumbfounded reporters, Buddy led Frank safely across a busy New York street. “I shall never forget the next three minutes, Ten-ton trucks rocketing past, cabs blowing their horns in our ears, drivers shouting at us . . . When we finally got to the other side and I realized what a really magnificent job she had done” Frank later wrote.

When Frank returned to Nashville, people were amazed at the sight of the blind man and his dog successfully navigating busy sidewalks and couldn’t believe that it was the same blind boy they had so recently taken pity on. What amazed people the most was that Buddy had an ability best known as “intelligent disobedience,” which meant that he would obey Morris except when executing that command would result in harm to his master. If there was a low hanging branch ahead on the sidewalk, for instance, Buddy knew how to navigate around it to the point where Morris wouldn’t hurt his head on it.

About this time, Frank, Eustis and several others cofounded The Seeing Eye, an institution set up to train guide dogs and their blind masters. Today, the organization reports that it has, in its 80 year history, trained 14,000 dogs. Buddy is considered the first. In 1978, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the school, the U.S. issued a commemorative stamp in honor of The Seeing Eye.