MS Royal 10 E IV, f.110 - Guide Dog
Advancements and accommodations are made every day in modern life to make sure those with disabilities are included and treated equally. These advancements and accommodations, such as ramps, prosthetics, and even guide dogs, are seen in every day life, but how early in history were these advancements used?
This artifact focuses on one of the earliest-known representations of a guide dog. The artifact is in a manuscript from the thirteenth century entitled “The Decretals of Gregory IX” from Southern France. The picture itself within the manuscript depicts a blind beggar being led by a dog (Murchison). Guide dogs aren't commonly thought of as existing until as early as World War I, but this manuscript brings new light to the topic of guide dogs and how they were used during the medieval period to how they are used currently.
This early representation of guide dogs in the medieval period is not the only one of its kind, however. In a fourteenth-century Book of Hours, there is a picture of a blind man being granted the gift of vision from a priest. Sitting behind the blind man is his dog attached to a leash which is connected to the man’s wrist. This dog was essentially leading the blind man until he received his vision (Murchison). Many of these manuscripts depicting the earliest versions of guide dogs have gone unnoticed. They can be found in manuscripts, but many are found in medieval prayer books. It is important now to look back at these manuscripts and realize some of the current accommodations for those with disabilities were also used throughout history. Guide dogs are one example of an accommodation that has gone unnoticed overtime.
Guide dogs may have been seen as early as the medieval times, but the official training of dogs leading those with visual impairments did not begin until the 1780’s. This training took place in Europe, specifically at the “Les Quinze-Vingts”. The “Les Quinze-Vigts” was a hospital for the blind in Paris, France. The movement to train dogs to lead the blind then shifted to Vienna in 1819 where Johann Wilhelm Klein, the founder of the Institute for the Education of the Blind, included the idea of guide dogs in his book on education for the blind. This study even included the methods used in order to train guide dogs. It was these studies written by Klein that helped during future times such as World War I (Holmes).
World War I introduced many new weapons and circumstances faced by soldiers. The introduction of poisonous gases resulted in many soldiers returning home blind, thus needing the help of guide dogs. It was because of World War I and the need for guide dogs that German doctor Gerhard Stalling began teaching dogs skills needed to guide the veterans blinded from battle. The first guide dog school was opened in Oldenburg, Germany to honor his works in August of 1916. As time went on, more and more branches of this guide dog school opened all across Germany. These branches were able to train up to six hundred guide dogs per year. After more branches were opened the trained dogs were not only used to guide blinded veterans, but they were being used to guide those with vision disabilities all around. The school however was shut down in 1926 due to a decrease in the quality of training guide dogs, but the history of guide dogs does not stop here (Holmes).
Right after Stalling’s school for guide dogs shut down, another school was opening in Potsdam: "this new school was able to train around 100 dogs at a time, with an average of 12 fully trained guide dogs graduating each month” (Holmes). During this time period guide dog training was mainly focused on in Europe. Any dogs needed on other continents were shipped to where they needed to go. As guide dog training became more popular a woman named Dorothy Harrison Eustis heard about the work in Potsdam. Eustis lived in Switzerland and trained dogs of her own for many different occupations such as the police and army. Once she had heard of the work being done by this school, however, she moved to Postdam for a few months to research and learn about these training methods. After several months of observing these methods Eustis wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post in American in October of 1927. It was after this article was written that Eustis began introducing guide dogs in the United States. One man who she worked with was named Morris Frank. Eustis brought Morris Frank over to Switzerland to train with a guide dog which he eventually brought back to the states. It was Frank’s guide dog that became known as the first guide dog in the United States (Holmes).
As we look back in history we see that guide dogs have existed and helped those with visual disabilities since at least the medieval period. It is this artifact from the manuscript “The Decretals of Gregory IX” that can connect us back to the medieval period to see that accommodations for those with disabilities were and still are present nowadays. Guide dogs played an important role in the medieval world as they were among the earliest forms of visual accommodations and they are still relevant to the world around us today.
Holmes, Tori. "Guide Dogs Have Been Leading The Way Since The Days Of Ancient Rome." Bark Post, 2016, barkpost.com/discover/brief-history-of-guide-dogs/.
Murchison, Krista A. "Guide Dogs in Medieval Art and Writing." Dr. Krista A. Murchison, kristamurchison.com/medieval-guide-dogs/.