Boyd's Eye View

by Garnet Allison Boyd

A six-part series on Guide Dogs, published in the Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, between April 12, 1978 and May 24, 1978.
 

Part One - April 12, 1978

     A number of readers over the last few months have suggested I write an article on my dog guides, Ava and Peyton. Up to now I have held off from doing so, but I have since changed my mind and hope the reader will feel it makes for interesting reading, but, I think I should start from the beginning.

I was involved in a car accident 21 years ago this coming July, when I was 38 years old. I had been married almost 11 years and had three young children, ages nine, six, and nearly two. I was in the back seat alone and, of course, there were no seat belts in those days. In the accident I was thrown from one side of the car to the other and finally out through the front passenger door, which had opened. The car was a new Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. The driver and the front seat passenger escaped injury, but the back of the car was folded in like an accordion. One moment on a perfectly straight road we were going in one direction when suddenly the car left the road sideways. I awakened several days later in the Moncton City Hospital; among numerous injuries, my eyes had been seriously damaged.

Since the introduction of seat belts, I have always felt that if we had had seat belts at that time, I would no doubt enjoy normal vision today. I hold to the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I don't know why it is, but most people, particularly adults, seem to feel seat belts are only required when you are on the main highway, which is wrong. I feel it should be an automatic habit for anyone getting in a car to first fasten their seat belt, and as well, push the lock button down on the door. Then, if you have the misfortune to be involved in a car accident (and it can happen to anyone), you won't be thrown sideways or forward as I was and there is a 99 percent chance that the seat belt will protect you from serious physical injury and may even save your life. Statistics show that the majority of car accidents occur in cities and towns and not on the highways. When I was in the hospital in Montreal, they brought a young women in there who had been in a car accident. Both optic nerves had been severed, making her instantly blind. My accident was in a city and her accident was in a small town in the Eastern townships outside Montreal. In her case, the children had come home from lunch and it was only when she reached in the refrigerator that she discovered the milk was nearly gone. So she hopped in the car to go to the grocery store less than a thousand yards from her home and, within that time frame, she was totally blinded. She too did not have a seat belt.

To the reader who is guilty of neglect on this very important point, I urge caution and ask them to adopt the automatic habit of fastening their seat belt when they get in the car. Remember too, the young learn from the example set by their elders.

In the three years following the accident, apart from constant medical surveillance, I had three eye operations. Finally in the summer of 1960 a specialist in Boston gave me the blunt truth; they had done all they could do. Considering the fact that by then I had only light awareness anyway, the news wasn't all that startling. Over the years I have come to know and avail myself of the services of some very capable and excellent doctors (general practitioners and specialists alike), but they cannot do the impossible. Some people seem to take their sight for granted and abuse it needlessly, while most are very conscious of their gift of sight and other senses; although most people will cringe at the thought of becoming blind.

According to a recently published report by the CNIB Fredericton-based representative, New Brunswick has the highest percentage of registered blind in Canada today, 1,250 of which 1,000 would have varying degrees of impaired vision and 250 would be totally blind. When you reach the point of having only only light awareness as long as there is interpretative vision, you retain directional orientation and the independence of mobility and are still very much a part of the sighted world.

When my wife and I returned home from Boston after consultation with one of the world's most outstanding eye surgeons, the future looked bleak indeed. We clung to the simple philosophy my wife had voiced at the outset of those first weeks in hospital in Moncton, "take each day as it comes and tomorrow will take care of itself." It has served us both well.

Our whole lifestyle changed from the moment of the accident. My wife gradually having to take over an ever increasing share of the load, learning to drive the family car, household budgeting, and most of the family responsibilities I had usually taken care of. She has managed well over the years and I must admit even better than I probably would have. A fact that we had three young children to rear and educate was uppermost in the minds of us both.

For the benefit of the reader, I should perhaps mention that at the time of the accident, both eyes had been cut or ruptured, or a bit of both, on the inner corners of the eyes with both lenses popping out. The surgery performed by doctors Leigh Ramsay and Dr. Desmond (deceased) was truly one for the books.

I never did regain any vision in one eye, but within weeks I could, with a special lense, see ten blocks away with the other eye. It was then discovered that the ciliary mechanism that produces the fluid pressure for the eye had been damaged and was never to right itself, with the result my vision gradually faded as scar tissue formed over the cornea and the retina became detached.

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Part Two - April 19, 1978

    To return to my story, the future did indeed look bleak. I cringed at the very thought of having to go through the remaining years of my life with a white cane to guide me. By then I had reached the point of having to rely on my daughter and the older of our two sons, who were my only means of getting out and walking for the exercise it gave me. I had jumped from 138 pounds to 165 pounds and I was in poor physical condition indeed. Certainly, I had no desire to burden the lives of my children.

One day I was sitting in the kitchen of our home having a cup of mid-morning coffee, when Les Johnston, who was then a bonds salesman for Royal Securities, dropped in. He said he had just been reading an article about Seeing Eye, Morristown, N.J., where they were training dogs for the blind and he thought this was just what I needed. My wife and I were both very interested in this and so the wheels were set in motion.

When I contacted CNIB their representative was not encouraging, so after some discussion my wife and I decided to go ahead on our own and contact Seeing Eye direct. The response was not long in coming and was complete in every sense. They sent medical and physical fitness forms to be completed by my local doctor to show I was physically able to train for a dog; also details on the training procedures, clothing required, costs, etc. The total cost from the time a blind person leaves their doorstep until they return around six weeks later, was and still is $150. This includes the dog with harness, grooming kits, also travel costs for the blind person, and excellent accommodations during their stay and also medical supervision for those who require insulin or other medication while at Seeing Eye. The cost for retraining and a new dog, when needed, is only $50 with the same provisions with the stay at Seeing Eye being about three weeks. We immediately forwarded the completed medical forms, information as to the route of travel, and a cheque for $150. Seeing Eye prefers that a blind person show enough desire to acquire a dog to pay this small charge. The actual cost of a fully trained dog guide is far in excess of the amount the blind person is asked to pay.

My first trip to Seeing Eye ended in failure. I was only there a couple of days when I became quite ill, and after a few days it was decided that I should return home and be rescheduled for return at a later date. Of course, I was very upset over this, but my second trip some months later proved to be a resounding success. What had happened when I became ill at Seeing Eye was that my nerves had literally begun to take over. I was beginning to come apart at the seams. The delayed reaction to the accident, the dramatic change in life style, the constant rounds of medication and medical appointments, the many, many months of uncertainty, expectations, anxieties, hopes, frustrations, and fears, had begun to overtake me.

I returned home for a brief visit with my family before going on to enter Moncton City Hospital where my doctor there was still following my recovery progress. With all tests completed, I found the diagnosis by my doctor difficult to believe -- nerves. I had always thought of nerves as something you could feel or sense outwardly. The human body is a complex mechanism, to say the least, and emotions, tensions, fears and many other sings all are involved and have been the undoing of many an individual who fails to recognize such a diagnosis for what it is. I returned home with one small prescription and some very definite instructions: to stop fighting blindness but to accept it, learn to adjust, at least get out with the boys once a week, lead as normal a life as possible, and above all, to relax. I was only home a few days when I awakened from a sound sleep in the middle of the night with my my stomach muscles tied in knots. From that time on, I fully recognized the accuracy of the doctor's diagnosis as the cause for my illness. I then made it a point to relax my muscles at every opportunity and continued with a mild tranquilizer, and soon made a rapid recovery to reasonably normal well being. I had begun to learn to live in blindness. Only those who once enjoyed normal vision and can recall the world about them previously and having been blind for at least a couple of years, will understand the need to acquire patience and tolerance. As one example, the simple act of receiving mail that you know to be of interest or importance to yourself and having to await someone's arrival to read it to you is an ordeal in frustration that is on-going for a long time.

Now, I had been rescheduled for dog guide training at Seeing Eye from September to March following. A long time friend (now deceased) came at the beginning of January and took me for ever lengthening walks so that by the time I was to return to Seeing Eye I could walk five miles without tiring at all.

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Part Three - May 3, 1978

     For the reader's benefit I shall describe the present Seeing Eye quarters which were fully operational by the end of the sixties, and where I returned for training for my second dog, Ava, in 1971.  The new quarters were only at the discussion point when I trained with Peyton, who became Atlantic Canada's first successful dog guide, and many were our travels and adventures.

Seeing Eye is situated a few miles outside Morristown, N.J., USA.  The grounds are spacious and well kept with a wide semi-circular driveway front entrance to the residence. It is an exceedingly well-designed building, with long years of experience in the training of dog guides for the blind going into that design. It has all the luxury of a modern hotel to meet the specific needs of both blind men and women, their comforts and evening hours of relaxation, their dogs, the trainers, the large staff of highly qualified people, who make it all run like clockwork. Inside (I believe it is the visitor's lounge) hangs an imposing oil painting of Dorothy Harrison Eustis who founded Seeing Eye in 1929, the world's first school for training dogs for blind men and women.

When I arrived at Seeing Eye for the first time, I was feeling somewhat apprehensive. Your arrival time has been anticipated, your luggage checked, and you are shown to your room. Two trainees are assigned to a room, which are very comfortably furnished with mats and bed chains at the sides of both beds for the dogs and adjoining bathroom facilities. My roommate was Andre Martin of Montreal, who lost his sight through diabetes. Short, as round as a barrel, jovial and curious, he proved to be all one could wish for in a roommate. We were the only Canadians in a class of some 16 or 18 blind people.

As beginners, training for our first dog, we did not get our dogs immediately. Rather self-initiative was induced, human dignity restored, and acquaintances made, as you familiarized yourself with the building and the routine. I was not long in realizing that the blind came from all walks of life and, on occasion, even from points as far away as South America and Spain. The first Canadian to acquire a Seeing Eye dog was Lawrence Young in 1932, but they all have one thing in common: the desire to gain the independence of mobility, to maintain physical well-being and to serve a useful role in society.

I had arrived at Seeing Eye in the early evening, and I believe it was two afternoons later that we received our dogs. We were sitting upstairs in the recreation lounge, when we heard the soft pad of their paws and trainer's footsteps. It was an odd feeling to be sitting there knowing that you were to receive a dog that would serve as your eyes and become very much a part of your life, hopefully, for long years. The trainer came over, passed me a leash and said, "Mr. Boyd, this is Peyton, a soft male German Shepherd, and he will be with you from now on." He was all of this and much more for nearly 10 years.

At some point in time before you had received your first dog, each beginner along with the trainer do what is known as the Juno Run - a dummy run with the trainer hanging on to the front of the harness and the pupil hanging on to the harness handle. With a firm voice you gave the command "Juno, forward," and you and the trainer began to walk along the street until you stopped as the trainer stopped, at a street intersection. With there being no traffic, you gave the command "Juno forward," crossed the intersection, and again the trainer stopped and you stopped. On instruction, you gave the command "Juno right" and then "Juno forward" and again began to walk along a street. "Juno rights" and "Juno lefts," and "Juno forwards," until you were back to where you had begun.

The complete commands to a dog guide are very simple and readily learned. ((Of course, the name Juno is replaced with your dog's name.) For me it was "Peyton right", right if I wanted the dog to edge to the right, "Peyton left", left if I wanted the dog to edge to the left. The German word "phooey" is used as a reprimand command, should the dog not be paying attention, such as looking to the side, or sniffing (often) the ground or the distraction of a dog or cat. Under severe distraction of the dog, you drop the harness handle and give a leash correction which you always have between your index and second fingers of your hand, the leash being attached to a choke chain that is around the dog's neck. Once the dog and master have become a team, it rarely has to be used. Usually dogs seem to realize a dog guide in harness is something different and stay clear. They'll "woof" but only come within a few feet. It is the smaller dogs that do all the yapping. Ava, my second dog, loves puppies and I can tell she would be delighted to stop and play with them, but you do have to keep moving. All beginners keep the dog only on a leash for a day or two before commencing training with the dog in full harness. You care for its twice daily feedings, grooming it, and taking it to the bathroom ("parktime") at four hopefully regular intervals. The dog becomes adjusted to you and you to the dog and then training begins in earnest.

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Part Four - May 10, 1978

     I was up at 6 A.M., got washed, shaved and dressed and then, along with others of our class, took the dog parktime, hoping it would not be a long drawn out affair. New dogs can sometimes be very upset at the transfer of loyalties from training to student and this can prove a problem in the instance of parktime performance. It was March when I trained with Peyton. I often recall going downstairs one morning and opening the door to a howling gale. I immediately went back up to my room for all the clothing I could muster and then Peyton and I went out to face the elements.

I was standing outside, hunched over, with my back to the sleet and winds when I began to laugh. My trainer came over to me and asked me what I was laughing about. I said I had just been thinking. If anyone had said five years before that I would be standing out here at this hour of the morning in this kind of weather with a dog on the end of a leash praying for it to go to the bathroom, I would have said they were crazier than H---. I guess that is what life is all about, you never know.

With parktime, it was back to our room, outer garments removed, dog harnessed and then to breakfast. Meals were excellent with choices prepared under the supervision of a dietitian, with special attention given to the needs of diabetics and others who might have an eating problem. With breakfast over, if you were one of the first group scheduled to go to Morristown for your training, you would return to your room to be in readiness for your drive to what had been dubbed "The Maple Street Run". It was well named as a few of us have good reason to remember. When we had arrived at our destination in Morristown, I got out, harnessed the dog, got faced in the right direction, and then put the dog at "sit" to be in readiness on the trainer's say so. I gave the instruction "Peyton forward," and we began to walk along the street. At the intersection we came to a stop. I put Peyton at "sit." With no traffic coming, I picked up the harness handle, gave the command "forward" and we crossed the street. After only a few steps I halted, gave the command "right," then "Peyton forward", and we began the Maple Street Run, which we would repeat morning and afternoon for several days to become adjusted to walking properly with a dog guide. The dog would begin to obey your commands, avoiding any obstacle or hazard that might be in your path. The trainer followed behind, frequently telling me to keep close to the dog because if you do not, the dog cannot take you around obstacles and you're either going to fall over them or bump into them as a beginner. Peyton was young and frisky and I was beginning to feel we were doing well when I walked smack into a big maple tree that was practically in the middle of the sidewalk. Immediately the trainer said "discipline the dog." I immediately dropped the harness handle, gave a sharp leash correction, pounded the side of the tree with my right hand saying, "phooey, Peyton, bad dog." On instruction I then walked back about 10 feet and the command "Peyton forward." This time Peyton made a wide birth of the tree. It was the first time Peyton had truly heeded my command. I suppose he had come to the conclusion that if he was stuck with me he had better begin to look after me rather than constantly looking back at the trainer to whom he was still loyal.

I want to move away in my story for a minute and then I will come back to that Maple Street to explain just what was going on. Seeing Eye, as I have earlier indicated, was founded by Dorothy Harrison Eustis in 1929. She was traveling in Europe in the late twenties where she happened to witness people trying to train dogs for First World War blind veterans in Germany. She had become very interested. She learned they were having even more success in Switzerland, so she went to that country. Having learned all she could, she then convinced a young man by the name of Debatez to come to America to start a school for training dogs for blind people and so it was that Seeing Eye came into being.

From that humble beginning of nearly 50 years ago, Seeing Eye today is a philanthropic organization heavily endowed through legacies and grants from very wealthy people for the wonderful new lease it offers blind people from all levels of society. Today, Seeing Eye breeds most of its own dogs. For the most part they find the German Shepherd most suitable, but they do use other dogs too, such as the Golden Retriever, the Labrador Retriever, and some other breeds. Again, Seeing Eye is not the only school for the training of dogs for the blind. There are some other schools that have become well recognized.

While I was at Seeing Eye to train for Ava in 1971, I met a young man who had just been responsible for the overseeing of fellowships of some five million dollars for eye research and canine research and, on his request, was later able to supply him with the name of a young opthamologist in Canada who needed a fellowship to continue his research work.

The young Mr. DeBatez became, in later years, Dr. G. W. DeBatez, retiring after 40 years of very distinguished service in the training of dog guides for the blind. Much of the successes of Seeing Eye over those years can be directly attributed to Dr. DeBatez and the advancement of dog guide training generally can be attributed to his untiring zeal and unswerving devotion to a very humane and worthy undertaking.

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Part Five - May 17, 1978

     When the puppies were born, weaned from their mothers and sorted out for the physical weaknesses and traits, those that pass are sent to 4H farms with young children, where they remain until they are a year old. They are then returned to Seeing Eye, to undergo constant training and supervision for a three-month period. The dogs are groomed, fed, and cared for, receiving lots of affection, much praise when they do well, and a sharp rebuke for wrong doings, so that they learn obedience training well. Finally, the trainer is blindfolded and the dog takes him through the heart of Morristown, under the watchful eyes of those who have long been in the business of training dog guides for the blind. With their approval and then only, is the dog considered to be ready to train with a blind person.

The heroes and the heroines in this part of the story are the boys and girls in those 4H farms who accept these dogs, knowing they will have to be returned to Seeing Eye, when they become a year old. To their great credit, they do so, for the very wonderful task they perform in the dog's years of faithful service to a blind person.

Now I'll come back to that maple tree with an apology for distracting the reader's train of thought. Peyton's first love had been for the young children on the 4H farm where he first stayed, but by the time he had been with the trainer for three months, that love and loyalty had been transferred to him.

As Peyton's new master, it was my first real task to win his love and loyalty from the trainer. At the outset the trainer had told me that Peyton would be a hard dog to win, but when I did so, he would be my dog for life. That was so true. A few evenings later, I was feeding Peyton. Always when the dog was fed, the trainer brought his food in a dish, ground meat and dry dog food, which you mixed together with your hands so that your scent was in the food and the dog would then recognize that you were in charge of his feeding. I had just prepared Peyton's food and placed the dish on the floor, when Peyton slurped me with his tongue full across the face. Either by accident or design, the trainer was just passing my door. He learned in and said, "Mr. Boyd, you have just won your dog." From then on Peyton's only attention was to me.

As the days became weeks, the routes lengthened and became more complicated, with our encountering every kind of obstacle and hazard, all of which you could possible encounter when you and your dog were finally on your own, and away from Seeing Eye. It could be a child's toy, or a saw horse, a mound of earth or depression, all of which the dog would either take you safely around or stop to let you know; a pneumatic drill going off as you passed (to test the dog for noise shyness), a group of cats or dogs (deliberately planted, I am sure), a ladder learning against a building with its base on the sidewalk, and on it went.

By the time the day had ended, you had showered and changed into more comfortable clothing, dined and taken the dogs parktime (hopefully) for the last time, and you could then relax. Some who were feeling a bit bushed would choose to remain in their room to appear later for a snack and coffee, but for the most part, the main lounge was a gathering place for an exchange of pleasantries, television, music and games, with light refreshments, and then back to your room, to be in readiness for that early six AM call and begin another day of training. In our second week, Andre Martin and I had been given new, more experienced partners with the result that the four of us often played forty fives during an evening. One evening a card fell to the floor, Peyton picked it up in his mouth, sat up and dropped it in my lap. It was the ace of hearts. Amid much laughter, a rule was passed barring Peyton from playing cards because he could see.

Friday evenings saw some real discussions and stories and entertainment, some rare food choices and a glass of beer for those who wished. Everyone attended and was involved.

Toward the end of our training we were dropped off at the downtown lounge of Seeing Eye in Morristown, as center of operations, to be picked up later for return to Seeing Eye. In our sixth and final week of training, we were in the the heart of downtown Morristown, 50,000 population. Streets were heavy with traffic, sidewalks crowded with people. On and off buses, in department stores and elevators, upstairs and downstairs, many traffic checks and street crossings, until finally, having been under the watchful eyes of long experienced training supervisor personnel, your trainer was given a nod of approval and your training was completed.

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Part Six - May 24, 1978 

     When you arrive home with your dog for the first time (town, city, or rural residence), the area is strange to the dog, but they are not long in absorbing it. Affection, lots of praise for doing well, and firm but gentle discipline are the hallmarks of success for any blind person with a trained dog guide and that is particularly true when you first arrive home.

Peyton was an inveterate thief. I had hardly been home a couple of days when this was learned. My wife had prepared a special dinner with a big cake for my birthday which I had observed at Seeing Eye. We were sitting in the living room with Peyton on the floor at the side of my chair. Suddenly, my wife got up with a start, said oh my goodness, and headed for the kitchen. There was Peyton, big front snow-shoe paws on the counter top, his long snout laden with icing, the cake having been devoured. My wife has often wished she had taken a picture of that incident. Many a time he would, through the years, clip his half of my sandwich off my plate while I was distracted, never making a sound or disturbing a thing; although in harness, he was all business and would never take liberties.

I can only describe Peyton as a majestic looking animal. A fine well-shaped head, light in colour, dark back and tail, his underbody, chest and legs of the same light colour and four big black snowshoe paws. He weighed 75 lbs. and was a wonderful family pet and loved to go with the children on leash on occasion.

When I took Peyton for his first walk around the town, my older son followed behind to assure that Peyton stopped at street corners that had no curb. From then on it was a piece of cake. I might just point out that most people are under the impression that these dogs work from the colour of the traffic lights, but this is not the case. Rather, you and the dog gauge the traffic, and when you think it is clear, you give the command "forward." If the dog agrees, you cross; if not, the dog will disobey the command.

A poodle is of the highest intelligence in the dog world, but one thing it cannot do is disobey a command intelligently. If I were to have a poodle in harness at a traffic light and gave the command "forward" with a bus or car coming, it would step in front of the vehicle. That is the main difference between a dog guide and an ordinary dog.

In his seventh year, Peyton developed Panus disease of the eyes, which is hereditary to the German Shepherd and results in total blindness.

On our last night's walk, he brought me home only by keeping his nose close to the curb. I removed his leash and harness and sat down at our kitchen table. Peyton came and buried his head deep and hard in my lap. I knew what he was trying to tell me. I got in touch with Seeing Eye and they arranged for me to train for a new dog. From then on Peyton and I went only on daylight hour walks.

After three weeks of retraining, I arrived home from Seeing Eye by air with my new dog guide Ava, who is a distant cousin of Peyton.

Peyton was flown back to Seeing Eye later that same month to enter retirement kennels where the dogs receive every attention, care, taken on walks, and are fed and groomed. Seeing Eye sent me a lovely photo of Peyton in harness, which today hangs on the wall of our downstairs den.

I can best describe Ava as a princess. Weighing 55 lbs. with a fine head, and dark features, back and tail, with light under markings and small paws. Through research, Panus disease of the eyes (which afflicted Peyton) has been bred out of these dogs, including Ava.

I traveled widely with Peyton over the years and I have done so with Ava, although not quite so much as I am getting older. Unquestionably, Ava is just as capable and just as intensely loyal as Peyton was. Truly a dog can be and is for me, man's best friend.

Today, as I have earlier indicated in this article, there are a number of well-recognized schools for the training of dogs for blind men and women and schools in Europe as well. All because a young American lady by the name of Dorothy Harrison Eustis persisted in a singular cause -- the training of dog guides for blind men and women.
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