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Saturday, June 15, 2024


OC Library Hosts ‘Seeing Eye’ Program

OC Library Hosts ‘Seeing Eye’ Program

By Camille Sailer

OCEAN CITY – As part of its annual “Ocean City Reads” program, this resort’s library organized a series of events centering around the experience of Michael Hingson, during the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City Sept. 11, 2001.
Hingson penned a book, “Thunderdog,” which was on the New York Times best-seller list its first week of publication. The book recounts what transpired as Hingson, a blind person, was safely guided out of the building by his canine companion, Roselle.
Complementing Hingson’s inspirational story Oct. 13 at the library, ‘Seeing Eye’ dogs and their trainers gathered to explain to the numerous participants attending how they raise these remarkable animals to become indispensable companions to the blind. 
From the introduction to “Thunderdog,” the backstory is described as Hingson’s courageous way out Sept. 11: “Although his doctor recommended that Michael Hingson’s parents send him to live in a home for the blind when he was six months old, they never lost faith.
“’I’m sorry,’ the doctor said. ‘He is permanently and totally blind. There is nothing we can do for him.’
“Forty-seven years later, a yellow Labrador retriever puppy was born in the whelping unit of Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif. The puppy’s name was Roselle.
“On Sept. 11, 2001, she saved Michael’s life. This is Roselle’s story too.”
As Hingson explained, he was a district sales manager for a data protection and network security systems company, and was just sitting down for a meeting when one of the four hijacked planes hit his north tower office in the World Trade Center. Roselle, with whom he had been paired for 21 months, was at his feet.
“I couldn’t see a thing, but I could hear the sounds of shattering glass, falling debris, and terrified people flooding around me and Roselle. She stayed calm beside me, and in that moment, I decided to trust her judgment and not panic since we are a team.”
At the demonstration, Seeing Eye dog trainers explained how individuals and their guide dogs forge a lifelong bond of trust and faith in each other. Seeing Eye is a registered trademark and only dogs trained at the organization’s Morristown headquarters, at a cost of about $70,000, can rightfully be called by this name.
Other dogs serving the blind are known as “guide dogs.” The Seeing Eye receives no government funding, and is supported solely by donations and bequests.
From information on its website, The Seeing Eye dates its genesis to 1927 when a young American, Morris Frank (1908-1980) read an article about dogs being trained as guides for blinded veterans of World War I’s horrific gassing warfare. Frustrated by his own lack of mobility as a blind person, Frank was inspired to write the article’s author, Dorothy Harrison Eustis for help.
Eustis was an American training German shepherd police dogs in Switzerland and agreed to help Frank if he promised when he returned to the U.S. that he would spread the word about these wonderful dogs. Today, German shepherds, Labradors, and Golden retrievers are the breeds that become Seeing Eye dogs. French poodles are occasionally trained for those who are allergic to dog dander.
On June 11, 1928, having completed instruction in Switzerland, Frank arrived back in New York City, proving the ability of his new companion dog, Buddy, by navigating a dangerous street crossing before throngs of news reporters. His one-word telegram to Eustis told the entire story: “Success.”
The Seeing Eye was born at that moment with the dream of making the entire world accessible to people who are blind and its universal astonishing success continues to this day.
At its headquarters, The Seeing Eye hosts a 60-acre campus which is home to administrative offices, student residence, veterinary clinic, and kennels.
In 2001, a breeding station was built on 330 acres in Chester, which houses the adult breeding dogs and puppies until they are 8-weeks-old. An additional training center is located in downtown Morristown.
The Seeing Eye is the oldest existing guide dog school in the world and continues its role as a pioneer in the guide-dog movement. The organization has played an integral part in shaping public policy guaranteeing access and accommodation to those who use service animals.
From developing a computer information system that calculates the suitability of every dog in the colony to become a breeder, to funding cutting-edge research in DNA sequencing and identifying genetic markers for degenerative eye disease, The Seeing Eye is a research leader in canine genetics, breeding, disease control and behavior.
Rex, who participated in the demonstration, is one of The Seeing Eye’s premier breeding dogs who has sired nearly 80 offspring and is much in demand internationally for his own DNA because of his character and unusually high intelligence. The organization is a founding member of the Council of U.S. Guide Dog Schools and a fully accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation.
At the demonstration, the dogs exhibited their astonishing intelligence and dedication as well as enthusiasm for their work. Training takes place very quickly over the course of about four months at which point they then live with a “puppy raiser” for about 14 months.
The puppy raiser takes his/her canine charge literally everywhere, from shopping to trains and airports, to schools and walking in all kinds of environments to get them totally acclimated for their life with a blind person. The dogs are also taught a technique called “intelligent disobedience” through which they will refuse a command if they sense it will mean danger, for example, not going left if there is a major barrier that can’t be traversed.
Poignantly, the last time puppy raisers see their dogs is when they follow silently behind as their dogs and their new companions make their first walk together.
The Seeing Eye dogs live with their blind person on average for about seven to eight years at which point they are adopted by the family which has first priority, or they can go to live back with their puppy raiser.
There is a lengthy waiting list for a Seeing Eye dog. The cost to the blind person is $150, and $1 for a veteran; these rates have not changed since the 1930s, and no one has ever been turned away for inability to afford the fee.
For more information on how to become involved with this cause, or make a donation or bequest to The Seeing Eye, visit
To contact Camille Sailer, email

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