For centuries the dog has been a companion and aid to blind people. Throughout the ages, art and literature have placed the dog at the blind person’s side.
There is a painting in the Louvre, in Paris, depicting a blind man and his “guide dog” painted by Chardin in the mid 1700’s. There is also a wood-cut by H Nageli done in 1845 of a famous blind traveller, Jacob Birrer, and the small dog he had trained as his guide dog.
The original guide dogs were smallish mongrel type dogs, rather terrier-like in appearance. They basically walked ahead of the blind person on a long rope.
During World War 1 the Germans trained dogs to carry messages and to perform other specialised tasks. After the Great War (1914 – 1918) the Austrian War Department started to train blinded war veterans with guide dogs. It was not until 1923, in Germany, that any formalised training for blind persons with dogs was established. A training centre was established in Potsdam.
A visiting American, Mrs Dorothy Harris Eustis, who was experimenting with intelligence in dogs at her breeding station “Fortunate Fields” in Switzerland realised the potential. It was the enthusiasm of Morris Frank, a blind young American, which inspired Dorothy to train a guide dog for him. The dog was called Buddy.
In 1929 Morris and Dorothy established the first Guide Dog School in the USA in Morristown, New Jersey, calling it “The Seeing Eye”. In 1931, the Guide-Dogs for the Blind Association was started in the United Kingdom. Over the years more and more countries have opened their own training centres.
Guide Dogs in South Africa
The South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind was founded in 1953 by Gladys Evans and a temporary training centre was rented at No 1, Glamorgan Road, Parkwood. after she returned from England with her famous guide dog, Sheena.
GDA’s first real home was a lovely 6 acre property called “Vale Cottage” in Parkmore, Sandton which was established in 1958. Vale Cottage was later renamed “The Gladys Evans Training Centre” and was to remain the home of GDA until 1986 when, due to the increased demand for guide dogs, the new “Gladys Evans Training Centre” was opened in Wroxham Road, Witkoppen.
This 11 acre property today boasts all the facilities required to train both guide dogs and their blind owners.
It’s interesting to note that in the long history of GDA only 5 people have headed the Association. They are Michael Bibikoff (1955 to 1959), Lionel Wilson (1959 to 1969), Ken Lord (1969 to 2004) and Malcolm Driver (2004 to 2013), Gail Glover (2014 to present)