Guide dogs celebrate their 75th birthday

Tue, 07 Feb 2006

It was 75 years ago when the first guide dog was introduced to Britain.

Not much is known of the how the partnership between a dog and a blind person first came into being but one of the first examples dates back to a mural in the first century AD.

However formal training didn’t start for guide dogs until the First World War in Germany by Dr Gerhard Stalling. German shepherds were used to help soldiers that were blinded at the front line.

An American trainer called Dorothy Eustis trained police and army dogs. In 1928 she established her own training centre in Switzerland called L’Oeil qui Voit (The Seeing Eye).

Mrs Eustis was contacted two years later by two British German Shepherd enthusiasts, Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond who had read about her achievements with a view to setting up a centre in the UK.

The result was that Mrs Eustis sent one of her own trainers from Switzerland to help setting up the UK centre. In 1931 the first guide dogs were qualified to help their visually impaired owners to walk the streets. The names of the first four dogs were Flash, Meta, Judy and Folly.

A Russian captain, Nikolai Liakhoff, who worked as a trainer at L’Oeil qui Voit arrived in the UK the following year. He played a key part in the development of guide dog training in the UK.

In 1934 the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was established in the UK with the first official training centre opening in 1941 in Leamington Spa.

Since then the charity has flourished and there are now 29 district teams.

To celebrate its 75th anniversary, an interactive exhibition has been set up called Moving Forward Together. The exhibition will be touring across the UK throughout the year visiting museum’s and shopping centre.

The exhibition shows how dogs have been trained over the last 70 years using three dimensional, touch sensitive and audio exhibits. As the exhibition is about dogs helping blind or partially sighted people, there are facilities for non-sighted people to appreciate and understand what the exhibition is about.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to know what the effect of some serious eye conditions have by wearing special glasses.

Please visit Guidedogs.org.uk for further information.

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