In 1914, at the age of 6, Morris Frank was blinded in his right eye in a horse-riding accident. Ten years later, a boxing match cost him the sight in his left eye.
Frustrated at having to rely on others to get around his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., Frank was excited to learn in 1927 of a program in Switzerland that trained German shepherds to assist the blind.
The following April, the 20-year-old Vanderbilt University student booked passage to Europe and traveled alone across the ocean to meet the dog that offered what Frank described as “the divine gift of freedom.”
After five weeks of intensive training, Frank returned home with his new companion, Buddy, and the pair traveled widely, demonstrating how a well-trained dog could help a blind person navigate even unfamiliar surroundings safely and with confidence. Their success inspired Frank and Dorothy Eustis, the American woman who ran the Swiss program, to launch the Seeing Eye, the first guide-dog training school in the United States, in 1929.
Today, some 250 dogs — mostly German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers — complete training at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, N.J., every year.
Other animals working for a Living
- The U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program trains dolphins to detect underwater mines.
- Sheep trimmed the lawn—and groundskeeping costs—at the White House during World War I. Wool auctions benefited the Red Cross.
- Western ranchers use guard llamas to protect their sheep herds. Llamas are naturally aggressive toward coyotes and dogs, the top predators of sheep.
- The U.S. Army Signal Corps deployed 36,000 pigeons overseas to carry messages during World War II.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of American History.