Tremendous outcome from tragedy

We’ve introduced you to the first two significant pioneers for Guide Dogs in Australia, Dr Arnold Cook and Beau. But the story that fueled the dream started well before this, following World War I.

Out of this awful tragedy came a movement that changed the lives of people living with vision loss; a tremendous outcome.

The rehabilitation of blinded soldiers sparked the setting up of the first school to train dogs to assist the blind. It was established by Dr Gerhard Stalling in Oldenburg Germany in 1916 after he had observed the behaviour of his own dog left with a blind patient whom he had been walking when he was called away. This provided a base from which the Guide Dogs for the blind movement spread to many countries of the world.

In 1925 the school was taken over and conducted by the German Association for the Blind. American woman, Mrs Dorothy Eustis, along with her husband, was breeding and training German Shepherds as rescue and police dogs in Switzerland at this time. She was impressed with the success of the school and following a visit there wrote an article for an American magazine.

Those powerful words prompted a young blind man, Morris Frank from Nashville, Tennessee, to write to Dorothy stating that he ‘needed one of those dogs’.

Despite the fact that Dorothy had never trained a Guide Dog, she was so impressed with his sincerity that she agreed to undertake the task if he could get to Switzerland.

So it began…

Following her success in training Buddy for Morris, Mrs Eustis set up a training headquarters in New Jersey with four trainers. One trainer was Captain Nicholas Liakhoff who, at Mrs Eustis’ suggestion, accepted the challenge of the becoming the first permanent trainer in the United Kingdom. He served the English Association ultimately as Director until his death in 1962.

Tremendous outcome_Captain Liakhoff

Soon after his arrival in October 1933 Captain Liakhoff is shown training a dog in Wallasey, UK. He remained working for the British Association as a key figure in their development until his death in 1962.

Tremendous outcome - Captain Liakhoff 2

2. Captain Liakhoff selecting dogs for training at the British facility in Leamington Spa.

On hearing about his work, Betty Bridge applied for a position on his staff. She was initially advised that only men were wanted as trainers, but World War II changed all that with the men away, and women were now welcome. Betty spent five years there as a trainer. When a new facility was opened at Exeter, she was sent to work there. There, she met and trained Australia’s Dr Arnold Cook and assigned him Guide Dog Dreena.

Tremendous outcome - Betty Bridge

Betty Bridge portrait.

Dr Cook and Betty corresponded regularly after his return to Australia, and so he was aware of her intended emigration to New Zealand to join her parents and was able to ‘hijack’ her enroute. Although she continued her travels at that time to New Zealand, she promised to return.

And she did, to take up the role of first Guide Dog Trainer in Australia…. a tremendous outcome.

Tremendous outcome - Betty Bridge on site

The Perth centre where Betty Bridge trained had humble beginnings. The original shelter in WA, it consisted of two converted tramcars. Betty Bridge is in the gallery photograph standing in 1952 beside the first vehicle. Betty was not phased by the tramcars incorporating her living quarters and a training room. She did however advise of the need for a vehicle to transport the dogs and clients.

Information sourced from: Fifty Years Forward: The story of guide dogs in Britain Published by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association March 1981
Lead With a Watchful Eye: The Silver Jubilee of Guide Dogs in Australia by V.M. Branson and W.B.C. Rutt. Published in 1982.