>Thoughts On "The First Lady Of The Seeing Eye"

>Well, Jill is going to smile because I finished the second book she recommended, “The First Lady of the Seeing Eye”. Sadly, there was no mention of Juno, not by name anyway. The empty harness was mentioned, but that’s it. But I did learn a lot of stuff I never intended to.

First off, good lord I’m glad I didn’t grow up in that era. I don’t think I would have survived it. I would have gotten so enraged I probably would have given myself an aneurysm. I can’t even imagine not having proper mobility training. It seemed they handed out white canes with no teaching. It was just like, “here. Put this stick in front of you and maybe you won’t hit stuff.” So at the time, there were a bunch of blinks shuffling about, falling down holes, and not crossing streets on their own. They had to be led around by the nose anyway, only now they also held a stick.

I know one reason they didn’t cross streets on their own back then was, gasp, the traffic light wasn’t invented or broadly used yet! No goddamn wonder they didn’t try and cross streets. it would have been pure mayhem! I mean, I know there weren’t as many motorized vehicles, but I think horses’ hoofs would have been just as deadly. I can’t imagine standing at a street corner with my cane and going “tap tap tap” waiting for some kind soul to lead me like a sheep across the street. Even in the 1940’s, that was still going on. There is one plaza where I wait for assistance because it’s a goddamn zoo, and now, every time I stand there, all I can think is “tap tap tap.”

Back then, the guide dog really increased someone’s freedom exponentially. I mean, I’m not going to downplay the feeling of freedom I have when walking with the Trixter because I can move so much faster and more fluidly, but before her, I could still get around. It was just slower and less graceful. But back then, if you didn’t have a dog, your fate was to be treated like “an American express parcel” as Morris Frank put it. You would be taken somewhere and then left there until you could be picked up. You would have to hire people to lead you somewhere, and if they decided to screw you over, well, that was that. You were helpless.

Does anyone remember those days? Did blind people really stand at street corners tapping their canes and begging to be helped across the street? Was that a common practice? I have to wonder if it was, since two different books mentioned it.

I think guide dog handlers, especially in the states, owe a lot to Morris Frank and Dorothy Eustis. She had the realization that guide dogs would be useless if they couldn’t go into any buildings or ride buses, and he dit a whole hell of a lot of advocacy to get access for guide dogs. He had to fight a lot of battles that we just don’t have to fight now, and be the first one to educate people about all things guide dog. I mean, we all have to do a lot of educating, but people really had noone else to ask back then. It was him, spending years of his life on the road, speaking all over the country, who explained things for the first time.

Not only that, but the school showed a lot of other schools how to do this guide dog training thing over here. Morris Frank was their Chuck, too! Jesus, I wish I had half his ambition.

Some of the stuff he said really seemed overdone, though. Maybe it’s the different temperament, lab vs. German shepherd, but I would never get off a ship with Trixie after traveling from Switzerland to the U.S. when we were a new team and then expect her to successfully cross an insane highway-like street with seemingly no traffic control. Trixie’s awesome, but she’s not half the trooper that he makes Buddy out to be. I wasn’t there, so I can’t say if he added in some hearts and flowers to help the school out, but it sure makes me wonder.

One thing I noticed was that in his time, the dogs were trained to fetch things that we dropped. I know GDB used to do that long before my time, but I guess it was phased out. I think old Trix would try and take advantage of that, bending over to fetch…some crumbs of food for herself.

It was definitely an interesting read, and made me realize how lucky we are these days with regard to access and the guide woof. I would never imagine leaving Trixie in the baggage car of a train. I know if I read this book before Trixie, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it as I do now. It’s definitely interesting to get a historical perspective.

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