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TN History for Kids

Morris Frank & Buddy

Morris Frank and Buddy
PHOTO: TN State Library & Archives

Morris Frank was a blind man who helped start the first school that trained seeing eye dogs. His dog Buddy is considered to be the first seeing eye dog in America.

This amazing story started in 1927, when Morris Frank was a 20-year-old student at Vanderbilt University and a man unhappy about his dependency on others to get around. Frank's father read him an article by Dorothy Eustis, a woman living in Switzerland who had seen shepherds training dogs to help blind people get around.

Morris Frank and Buddy

Excited by the idea, Frank took a ship to Europe and trained extensively with a dog that had been bred specifically to lead a blind person. The training was hard. But after weeks with the dog, Frank could get around the nearby village holding tightly to a harness to which Buddy was strapped.

Morris Frank returned to America with a goal of spreading the word about seeing eye dogs. From the day he got off the ship, he was successful. At one point, in front of a group of reporters, Buddy led Frank safely across a busy New York street.

A statue of Morris Frank and Buddy in
Morristown, New Jersey

When Frank returned to Nashville, people were amazed at the sight of the blind man and his dog successfully navigating busy sidewalks. "Now strangers spoke freely to me," Frank wrote years later. "In the old days, I often envied two sighted persons, who obviously did not know each other, their ease in striking up a conversation. With Buddy there, however, it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world for them to say, 'What a lovely dog you have!'"

About this time, Frank, Eustis and several others cofounded The Seeing Eye, an institution set up to train guide dogs and their blind masters. It operated in Nashville for two years and then moved to Morristown, New Jersey.

Buddy being lazy

Buddy remained a national hero for the rest of his life. When the dog died in May 1938, the event was noted with a long obituary in the New York Times.

Today, the Seeing Eye reports that it has trained 14,000 dogs. Buddy was the first.

 

Morris Frank & Buddy

There are at least three books about Morris Frank and Buddy:

  • Buddy: The First Seeing Eye Dog, by Eva Moore (for students in grades 2-4)
  • Morris and Buddy: The Story of the First Seeing Eye Dog by Becky Hall (also for students in grades 2-4)
  • First Lady of the Seeing Eye, by Morris Frank and Blake Clark (a 200-page book written at about an eighth grade level)