A life-size and lifelike painted bronze statue of a man and his dog stand near the Morristown Green in Morristown, New Jersey. The man is Morris Frank, co-founder and first Vice President of The Seeing Eye. The dog’s harness is immediately recognizable as that of an assistance animal. The dog is Buddy, a German Shepherd and the first guide dog for the blind in the United States. The statue is entitled “The Way to Independence.”
Frank was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1908 and spent much of his childhood assisting his blind mother. He lost sight in his right eye at six when he ran into a tree branch while horseback riding. Frank became completely blind at the age of 16 when his left eye was damaged while boxing. By the time he enrolled at Vanderbilt University, he had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of independence caused by his disability. Although he often hired young men as assistants, he found them too inattentive and unreliable.
In November 1927, Frank’s father read him an article in The Saturday Evening Post that would change his life and the lives of thousands of other blind people. The article, by American dog trainer Dorothy Harrison Eustis, described a school in Germany that was training blinded World War I veterans to work with guide dogs. Frank wrote to Eustis about acquiring a guide dog and she invited him to Fortunate Fields, her school in Switzerland. He arrived in February 1928 and was partnered with a female German Shepherd named Kiss. He renamed the dog Buddy and they underwent intensive guide dog training together.
Frank brought Buddy to the United States in June 1928 and immediately began campaigning about the advantages of using an assistance dog. He famously demonstrated Buddy’s skill to reporters by having her lead him safely across two of Manhattan’s busiest and most dangerous streets.
On January 29, 1929, in Nashville, Tennessee, Eustis and Frank established the first guide dog school in the United States, The Seeing Eye. Two years later, the school moved to New Jersey because the northern climate was more conducive to training German Shepherds year-round. Frank continued to crusade relentlessly for rights for the blind and full access for guide dogs until he retired from the school in 1956.
Frank and Buddy were partners until her death on May 23, 1938. A few days before, they broke one final disability barrier when she was permitted to accompany him on a commercial airplane flight from Chicago to Newark for the first time. During their years together, Frank and Buddy traveled over 50,000 miles, which demonstrated how a guide dog could transform a blind person’s life. Frank always credited Buddy with delivering to him “the divine gift of freedom.”
On April 29, 2005, the bronze sculpture of Frank and Buddy was installed near Morristown Green. Created by sculptor John Seward Johnson II, the piece captures the duo in mid-step as Frank raises his right hand in the “Forward” command.
Johnson painted the statue in full color (with automotive paint) to give it a more lifelike appearance. The sculpture is located at a spot that Frank and Buddy passed each day to and from work. That route is still used today by The Seeing Eye students and their dogs. Appropriately, the wording on the statue’s markers appears in English and Braille.