The First Guide Dogs in the World

Graphic: Black and white artist's sketch of a little dog on a leash leading an older looking man wearing a cape, carrying a walking stick.

From: What a Dog Can Do: A Memoir of Life with Guide Dogs, by Stephen Kuusisto, forthcoming from Simon and Schuster


No one knows when the forerunner of today’s guide dogs first appeared. Drawings of blind people accompanied by dogs date back to the 17th century. Those early pairings were most likely memorization teams, one pictures the dog leading its partner through the village square. It’s clear no substantial training was involved. But we can imagine the tremendous bond with dogs that developed between the uncharted and lonely blind people of prior ages. It is a safe bet that dogs solved the puzzle of solitude for blind travelers who lived in a time when sightlessness was a great calamity. (The idea that blind men and women could be taught to read was a late development in cultural history, as Diderot’s essay Lettre sur les aveugles published in 1749 offered the first speculation that raised letters might be possible.) The world of the blind has been a dismal place throughout much of history. It’s possible to say, along with the poet Pablo Neruda that pure faith cannot withstand the assaults of winter, but your survival is more likely with a dog. Sometimes when I think about the ancient blind with their lives of begging and fiddle playing, their relentless wandering, homelessness, sickness, I weep to imagine the righteous loyalty of those early dogs.


0 thoughts on “The First Guide Dogs in the World

  1. Finding your blog is so strangely fortuitous. I am a high school librarian and I am taking Google’s searching class. They have us doing an activity where we use the left-side of the search where they have different types of media, like blogs. I put in my search term of guide dogs because I am a puppy raiser in Florida with Southeastern Guide dogs. We are getting ready to turn in our third puppy and get our fourth in August. I saw your blog and thought I have I have to read that! 😎 I’ll be on the lookout for your book.


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