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Back to where it all began!

A yellow Labrador retriever sitting next to a small stream with a fast-running stream of bright blue water. In the distance behind him are mountains. Photo was taken in Switzerland.

Dorothy Harrison Eustis was born in Philadelphia, but the idea for The Seeing Eye was born in Switzerland.

There, in Vevey, she owned a kennel called Fortunate Fields where she bred and trained German shepherds for use by the Swiss police and military. Dorothy had visited a short-lived program by the German government in Potsdam to train dogs to guide veterans who had been blinded in World War I.

Dorothy wrote about what she saw in the November 5, 1927, edition of The Saturday Evening Post in article titled “The Seeing Eye”. The article was read to Morris Frank, a blind college student and insurance salesman living in Nashville, Tennessee. He wrote to Dorothy at Fortunate Fields and asked if she would train a dog for him – even though she’d never trained a dog to guide before.

After discussing it with her head trainer, Jack Humphrey, Dorothy told Morris she would train a dog for him… if he could go to Switzerland.

“Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back,” he replied, “I’d go to Hell.”

Morris came to Switzerland – not an easy trip for a blind man traveling alone in 1928 – and was matched with a German shepherd named Kiss. Morris promptly renamed her Buddy. Morris and Buddy worked with Jack at Fortunate Fields and on the streets of Vevey.

After the two had worked together for a few weeks, Morris asked if anyone was available to take him into town so he could get a haircut.

“You have Buddy, Morris,” Dorothy said. “Why don’t you go with her?”

In Nashville, a haircut was usually an all-day affair for Morris. His father would bring him to the barbershop in the morning on his way to work, then pick him up on his way home in the evening. This time, Morris could come and go as he pleased. When he returned to Fortunate Fields, he was laughing with joy.

“I’m free,” he exclaimed to Dorothy. “By God, I’m finally free!”

In June, Morris returned to the United States, where to the astonishment of skeptical reporters he was safely guided by Buddy across a chaotic New York City boulevard so perilous for pedestrians it was nicknamed “Death Street.”

Morris then sent a single word telegram back to Switzerland: SUCCESS. On January 29, 1929, he founded The Seeing Eye, a school to do for others what Dorothy and Jack had done for him.

Last year, a male breeder from The Seeing Eye was sent home, as it were, to Switzerland as part of our exchange program with guide dog schools elsewhere in the world. The exchanges help increase genetic diversity in breeding programs.

Breeders from The Seeing Eye are sought after, explained Peggy Gibbon, The Seeing Eye’s Director of Canine Development, because of our high standards for health and temperament.

The breeder sent to Switzerland is a yellow Labrador retriever named Bruce, now four years old. He is now a stud dog for La Fondation Romande Pour Chiens Guides D’Aveugles – the Foundation for Guide Dogs for the Blind – in Lucens, about 30 miles north of Vevey. The guide dog school was founded in 1994.

“They told us that Bruce saved their breeding program,” Peggy said. “With COVID restrictions, the school wasn’t able to participate in its usual breeder exchange program with other European schools.”

Bruce has fathered three litters to date, with a fourth on the way, and lives with a retired female breeder named Alba with the school’s CEO.

He spends his days at the school’s campus, where he gets lots of exercise running with guide dogs in training.

Several other dogs have made the trip to Switzerland, including a male black Labrador retriever named Aaron in 2007.

This story was first printed in the Spring 2021 Issue of The Seeing Eye Guide Magazine. Click here to read the full issue.