An early history of Guide Dogs in Australia By Alexandra Hasluck FOREWORD by His Excellency the Governor of Western Australia, Major-General Sir Douglas Kendrew, K.C.M.e.C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
How often has the sympathetic consideration of others, suffering from the same disability, brought help and confort to an unfortunate individual. Perhaps there is no better illustration of this than the story, here told, of a man who, as a healthy and gifted youth in his late teens, when life and learning meant so much to him, was suddenly deprived of that most precious of all gifts - sight.
Dr. Arnold Cook will always be remembered as the one responsible for the establishment in Australia of a school for the training of guide-dogs to lead the blind, based on the system which had been operating for twenty years in the U.K., Europe and U.S.A.
Attempts on such a project had previously been made in certain eastern states, but it was the privilege of the people of Western Australia to establish, on a sound basis, this invaluable service to the blind. Without the generous support of the citizens in money and personal service, this could not have been achieved.
Alexandra Hasluck's documentary record of the trials and tribulations of the organisation, more particularly in the nursery stages, is certainly a valuable contribution to the story of Perth's progress in the field of human service.
ILLUSTRATIONS Beau, the first Australian-trained guide dog frontispiece
1 Dr. Arnold Cook and Dreena facing 4
(By courtesy of West Australian Newspapers Ltd.)
2 The foundation committee of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association 5
3 Miss Betty Bridge, pioneer guide dog trainer in Australia 20
4 The Shenton Park Training Centre, 1952-53 21
5 Tram body en route to the Shenton Park Centre 21
6 The Belmont Training Centre, 1954-62 21
7 Kennels at the Belmont Training Centre 21
8 Mr. J. K. Holdsworth, Director of Training at the Belmont Centre 44
9 Presidents of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association of W.A. (Inc.) 45
10 The Ruby Clarkson memorial plaque 60
11 Sir Robert Menzies, Mrs. Elsie Mead and Beau at the official opening
of the National Guide Dog Training Centre, 17 November 1962 60
(By courtesy of the Herald)
12 Aerial view of the National Guide Dog Training Centre (Jack Davey
Memorial), Kew, Victoria 61
(By courtesy of Melbourne Photo & Graphic Services Pty. Ltd.)
TO GUIDE AND GUARD
PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA, was the first city in the Australian Commonwealth and, in fact, in the whole southern hemisphere, to establish a centre for the training of dogs to guide the blind. No magic wand brought this about in the twinkling of an eye; much hard work was involved. One man had the idea - perhaps it would be wrong in this case to call it a vision - and several others helped him press it into growth. It would be fair to say that none of them had any notion of the size to which the idea, transformed into reality, would grow, or that it would become an Australia-wide concern.
The generative impulse for a guide dog training centre started with a young man, Arnold Cook, born 5th May, 1922. He had gone blind with a rare disease of the eye, retinitis pigmentosa, at the age of eighteen. The blow was shattering; but calling up all the resources of an intelligent and disciplined mind, Cook proceeded to learn Braille and commenced an Arts degree at the University of Western Australia in 1944. He was married in December, 1946, and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Economics in 1947. His University record was so good that he was awarded a Hackett Scholarship to study in England, and went there in 1948. But work at the London School of Economics in the heart of a city learning with fast traffic was a vastly different proposition from work at the University of Western Australia dreaming on the quiet waters of Matilda Bay. Quite by chance, while visiting the parents o a University colleague, Cook heard about the Guide Dogs for the Blind Centre at Leamington Spa. The idea of more and safer freedom of movement appealed to him, and, always a man to act on an idea, he went to the newly formed Centre at Exeter. Here he eventually acquired a black Labrador named Dreena, the first guide dog from the Exeter Centre and later to become the most famous dog in all Western Australia for a while. Drecna gave him back independence of movement, the ability to make his own life and have his own privacy without obligation to others. In 1950 he completed his course at the London School of Economics and returned to Western Australia late in August of that year.
The University of Western Australia had made Arnold Cook the offer of an appointment as a lecturer in Economies. lie soon became an eye-catching figure in Perth as black Dreena led him skilfully along the crowded footpaths. Convinced as he was of the benefit he had gained from the use of a guide dog, he decided that others should share it, and characteristically wasted no time but turned his thoughts into aetion. He got in touch with the Secretary of the Braille Society of Western Australia, Mrs. Constance Gibbon, and with her consulted Mr. Gerald Keall, Honorary Solicitor for the Braille Society. They discussed at length the advisability of starting a guide dog training centre in Perth, rather than in Sydney or Melbourne. However, as they were aware, various attempts had been made to start the guide dog movement in other States and had proved unsuccessful.They felt it could be started in a small way in Perth, where it would have the advantage of Arnold Cook's knowledge and example. The three of them then decided to approach the Honourable James A. Dimmitt, M.L.C., and ask him to convene a committee for the purpose of establishing a centre for training guide dogs in Western Australia.
Mr. Dimmitt proved agreeable and asked his friend, Mr. Sam Clarkson (who was a member of the Rotary Club of Fremantle and a retired manager of Commonwealth Oil Refineries in W.A.), to join the committee, together with Mr. P. J. O'Neill, then President of the W.A. Kennel Club. These gentlemen, together with Mr. Cook, Mr. Keall and Mrs. Gibbon, formed the initial gathering which met in the office of Mr. Dimmitt on December 1, 1950, to consider the establishment of a Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.
The history of the Guide Dogs for the Blind movement is interesting It appears to have started just before 1819, in which year Herr Johann Wilhelm Klein, founder of the Institute for the Training of the Blind at Vienna, published a book on the education of the blind. In this book Herr Klein dwelt at some length on the subject of dogs especially trained for the use of his wards, and with the methods by which the blind could make use of the dogs so trained. Like many innovators, however, he was too much in advance of his time. It was not till 110 years later that Dr. L. Gabler of Berlin reprinted and edited Klein's volume, remarking that there was no way of knowing whether his suggestions had been carried out. By that time, 1929, the use of dogs for various purposes requiring intelligence had been established during the first world war, on both sides. In August, 1916, Dr. Gerhard Stalling of Oldenburg organised the first permanent school for the sole purpose of educating dogs for use with the blind. In April, 1925, the Oldenburg school was taken over as a working unit by the German Association for the Blind.
In 1925 an American woman, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, daughter of the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, visited Germany and became greatly interested in the work that dogs were doing for the blind of Germany. She wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post, which was published in 1927, describing the work done. The immediate result of this article was a demand from the blind of America for a similar training centre for dogs there. Dorothy Harrison Eustis organised in America a body called The Seeing Eye, and shortly after this L'Oeuil qui You was founded in Vevey, Switzerland.
As Western Australia was later to find, the idea, once established, caught on. It appealed, naturally, to the many active blind people in the world, and it appealed by its imaginative yet practical purpose to the general public, who had eventually to support it. The dog, long known as the friend of man, now became his benefactor.
The English school for training guide dogs was started by Captain Nicolai Liakoff at Wallasey, near Liverpool, in 1931, and was transferred to Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in 1940. Captain Liakoff, a former officer of a Cossack regiment in the first world war, had trained at L'Oeuil qui Volt in Switzerland. The school he opened was a success and a branch was formed at Exeter. It was at this school that Arnold Cook trained with Dreena and came into contact with Miss Betty Bridge, who was to become the first guide dog trainer in Australia.
Betty Bridge, whose home was in Essex, had been doing secretarial work in London. She was very much of an outdoor girl, however, and had always loved dogs and understood them. On hearing of Captain Liakoff's work in training dogs for the blind she applied for a position on his staff. She was told that only men were wanted. But by 1943 suitable men were scarce in England and eventually Betty Bridge became one of Captain Liakoff's pupils. After three years she gained her diploma and then spent five years as a trainer. When it was decided to open another training centre in an old manor house at Exeter, Betty and three men were sent to work there; Betty, small, pale and red-headed, being in charge of dog-training.
THE GROUP of people desirous of starting a guide dog training centre in Perth had formed themselves into an Association in December, 1950, with the Honourable J. A. Dimmitt as President, Mrs. Constance Gibbon as Honorary Secretary (also temporarily acting as Treasurer), Messrs. S. Clarkson, A. Cook, G. Keall and P. J. O'Neill as committee members. They met for the first time as a properly constituted committee on 4th January, 1951. Already possible sites for a centre had been investigated by Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Clarkson, and the best proposition seemed to be to hire part of the Dogs' Refuge Home, a home for strays, at Shenton Park, as was recommended by the Association's Honorary Veterinarian, Mr. T. Hogarth. Arnold Cook, who had kept in touch with Betty Bridge and had learned from her that her parents had emigrated to New Zealand and that she was going out to join them, reported that her ship was to pass through Fremantle on 11th January, and it was decided that Mr. Cook and a deputation should meet her and try to interest her in taking charge of a Training Centre for Guide Dogs in Western Australia.
During the day Miss Bridge was in port she met the committee and other people concerned and showed herself agreeable to returning to Western Australia in about six or eight months' time. This gave the committee time to begin fund-raising and publicity. On 24th June, 1951, it applied for incorporation as an Association. It began to get the land on the Dogs' Home property equipped with fenced-in yards and buildings. As the committee had started with no funds at all, the question of buildings was an item to be keenly considered. It was only six years since the end of the Second World War, and building materials were still not available in great quantity, and were costly. As in many other cases, the obvious starting point was to try to acquire surplus army huts. But even these were unobtainable. By September, 1951, the most that could be achieved was two old tram-cars--one to serve as living quarters for Miss Bridge (whose arrival from New Zealand was imminent), and the other for t.he cutting up of meat for the dogs, and for lectures to blind students when they were training with their dogs. The Tramways Department had agreed to let the committee have two old bogie trams for approximately £90.
The trams, of course, would have to be adapted and fitted up for their new uses. At this point, the newly formed Apex Club of Claremont came to the rescue of the committee's meagre finances. Apex members were prepared to do the necessary work to fit up the tram-cars as accommodation and as utility rooms. As a result of this kind offer, the Apex Club was asked if one of its members could join the Executive Committee of the Guide Dogs Association. The Apex Club was to continue to the end as one of the main, and certainly the most active, benefactors of the guide dog movement. The architect, Mr. R. Summer- hayes, offered his advice to help in transforming the trams; and other offers of help so much needed at this initial stage were made by the Dogs' Refuge Home, which allowed the Association to connect its pipes to their water supply, and by Rotarian George Boucher, who offered to lay the pipes free of charge.
Although there had not been as yet a great deal of publicity, donations had begun to come in. "Anonymous" had sent a cheque for £100 through the Braille Society, and Mr. N. Brearley one for £250. The Country Women's Association had rallied early and their country centres had sent in cheques for small but useful amounts, as also had private donors. There vas enough in hand to purchase the tramcars, and after this, by 15th October, 1951, the Association's bank balance stood at £362.
Miss Bridge arrived in Perth on 30th November, 1951, and met the full committee and their wives two days later at a morning party at Mrs. Gibbon's residence in Cottesloe. The committee had decided that she should be known as Director of Training, and prevailed on her to accept £6-5-0 per week, although she generously offered to work for six months in an honorary capacity, in order to spare the Association's funds. She was to have a helper, to be paid £2 per week. In welcoming Miss Bridge, the President said that they were all looking to her for guidance and would be glad to hear all the details she could give. Miss Bridge responded, saying that she realised finance was a consideration but that from her experience in England, she thought that funds would flow in when guide dogs were seen in action in city streets. In this she was later proved right. She also averred that the first essential of the proposed training centre was a motor van in which dogs could be taken to the worst conditions of city traffic for training. This would have to be done two or three times a day for at least a fortnight at the end of training for the purpose of testing the dogs. Private ears would be out of the question. A van was needed because blind students would eventually have to accompany the dogs.
This brought home to the committee the unknoxvn quantities with which they were dealing, and faced them with another expensive necessity. The project which had looked so simple at first was becoming more complex.
Miss Bridge also mentioned the extremely important essential of a supply of puppies for training. Obviously there could not be a Guide Dogs for the Blind scheme without dogs.
The committee had optimistically thought that in a country like Australia where dogs of remarkable intelligence were so much used for work in pastoral areas, the canine problem should not be difficult to solve. Miss Bridge explained that to achieve an output of twelve trained dogs a year, a supply of about fifty dogs between the ages of ten to eighteen months was necessary. Mr. Dimmitt promised to arrange for Miss Bridge to address the Rotary Club of Perth so that she might inspire pastoralist members to assist in the procuring of suitable dogs.
But as it was to prove, the problem of supply was not so easy of solution. The Australian Kelpie and Blue Heeler, sheep and cattle dogs, although almost telepathic in intelligence and with great ability for training and obedience, were in their physical make-up too highly strung and too active to adapt to the patient slow-motion needed by dogs that walk at the pace of their blind owners. The Labrador, or Labrador cross, vas favoured by Miss Bridge. It was a good-sized dog, affectionate and even-tempered, neither too fast nor too lethargic. She also liked English Border Collies and their cross-breeds. In America, she remarked, the Alsatian or the Boxer, another German breed, were mostly used. Female dogs were preferred for training. They were seldom molested by aggressive dogs encountered in the street, and were therefore far more satisfactory. They could be recalled twice a year for further training at the oestrus period.
The actual training, said Miss Bridge, commenced when the dogs were about a year old--when they had lost their puppy habits and commenced to show character formation. Dogs showing marked fear of traffic, people, cats, vehicles, other dogs or certain noises could be given special attention in an attempt to overcome these phobias but unless there was a marked response they were usually rejected. It had to be remembered that any faults were magnified tenfold when a dog was guiding a blind person. A slight tendency to nervousness or aggressiveness, for instance, that could be checked easily by a timely word from a sighted person could lead to serious trouble for a blind owner. Therefore, nervous or aggressive dogs were usually culled unless the fault could be eradicated quickly and surely.
She explained that dogs of suitable temperament were taught to stop upon reaching a kerb. This had to be a voluntary check and not brought about by a spoken command. There were four basic orders: "Forward", "Stop", "Left" and "Right". The dogs were trained to answer promptly to these spoken commands. On reaching a kerb a dog was taught to stop automatically and not move forward until commanded. One of the most difficult features of the dog's training was to teach it to exercise its own discretion and even to disobey the "Forward" order if danger from oncoming traffic made it necessary. Her audience found this the point at which the imagination boggled. They asked themselves, how does the guide dog exercise its own discretion? They had always understood that the orders lower than Man were unable to exercise reason; but this argument broke down in face of guide dog training. Obviously the whole point of the guide dog's existence depended upon the fact of the dog's being able to choose either the path that would lead to disaster, or the path that by reasoning against the instinct to obey would be the safe one.
Miss Bridge described the guide dog harness, a light chain collar together with a long upright U-shaped handle held by the blind person. This harness was later made and adapted by Mallabones Ltd., and was supplied free of charge through the kindness of Mr. K. Mallabone, who joined the committee in 1954. The harness was not to be used by anyone except a properly trained guide dog and his owner. In 1955 it was further improved by the addition of luminous tape, which gave more protection for night use. The dog was taught that once its harness was in position it was "on duty," and had to observe a different set of rules to those obtaining in its off-duty periods. It had to learn, for instance, that when "on duty" it was "bigger" than when off duty. In other words, that gaps through which it could pass as a dog, it must not pass through when wearing harness; and that it must swing wide and never pass under obstacles which would impede the passage of its human owner. Much credit must be given to the dogs that could rise beyond their own experience of size to direct their wards on these hazards. Miss Bridge's listeners, who had probably never given a great deal of thought to what went on in the minds of dogs, began to appreciate the degree of training that had to be put in.
Early in the guide dog's formative period, it was taught to understand traffic. This was made possible by volunteer helpers who would bring their cars to suitable spots and co-operate in the training program. Dogs were taught to check at the kerb and refuse to go forward even on command, if cars were approaching. As the training progressed, more cars were used until the dog became thoroughly traffic-conscious. At this stage it was taken to busy intersections and exercised in "natural traffic," while being closely observed.
Miss Bridge emphasised the point that the dogs were not infallible but were capable of taking about seventy-five per cent of the responsibility so that by the exercise of the dog's eyes and the owner's hearing a combination was produced that closely approached that of a normal sighted person.
Before Miss Bridge's arrival the Association had managed to acquire no more than one Labrador puppy, which was lodged at the Dogs' Refuge Home.
With her announcement that fifty pups would be required to produce twelve trained dogs a year, the problem became crucial: the Association had not envisaged having to breed dogs themselves, but it seemed that this might have to be done. The Rotary Club of Perth promised to find at least a dozen puppies, and a country supporter, Mr. F. P. Atwell of Toodyay, also promised to help with the supply.
Miss Bridge also informed the committee that pups under the age of 10 months should not be kept in kennels. Private homes would have to be sought in which they could be brought up under normal domestic conditions, their training in this way being done by volunteers. A drive therefore would have to be made to find good homes for puppies under the scheme.
The Daily News made an appeal for homes and ran a story which was good publicity for the Association; and the Boy Scouts, too, aided in the quest. Puppies began to come in. Many kind people were found willing to take the little furry creatures, train them to house conditions and then, having let them enter their homes and their hearts, give them up again. Anyone who has ever grown to love a dog will understand the extent of service given to the guide dog movement by these many anonymous donors. Although it got off to a good start, however, the puppy boarding scheme lapsed and had to be reintroduced several years later.
By March, 1952, there were four dogs in training, six being tested, two received for testing, one reject going back to its owners, one sold, and two very tiny puppies-in-waiting. As the months went by, rejected dogs, as long as their donors were willing, were sold to aid the Association's funds. They were not sold cheaply. Occasionally the Association had to buy suitable Border Collies and Labradors. They were therefore pleased to receive in October, 1952, the gift of three Labrador puppies from Miss H. Lascelles of South Yarra, the freight of the animals from Victoria by air being donated by Australian National Airlines. Another Labrador was donated by Mrs. L. M. Kissack in December, bringing the total number of dogs at the Training Centre to eighteen. But supply of dogs continued to be ever a crucial problem.
SHORTLY AFTER Miss Bridge's arrival to take up her position as Director of Training, and just thirteen months after the conception of the guide dog training scheme, in January, 1952, the first Training Centre was ready to begin operations. It lay next to the Dogs' lefuge ttome in the bush near to the railway line at Shenton Park, midway between Perth and Fremantle. The two tram-cars that had been purchased for buildings had been set up side by side, with a paved patio between them, set with pots of colourful plants and shrubs. They had been adapted, painted and made spic-and-span by the Claremont Apex Club workers, according to their promise. The whole arrangement looked very attractive. Kennels and fenced runs for the dogs were still needed, the Association being obliged to use two kennels of the Dogs' lefuge Home. The necessary motor van had been acquired. Lynas Motors Ltd. of Perth, when first approached, had generously offered the loan of a van, but the committee was enabled to purchase one from the company after a cheque for £800 had been donated by the Lotteries Commission. The van, biscuit in colour, had a wire grid, a seat on either side, an extra front seat and two brackets on top to hold obstacles for training.
All went very well for the first few months, but then gradually a little friction began to arise in relations with the Dogs' tefuge Home because of the proximity of the two establishments. After correspondence between the committees of the two places it appeared that the Dogs" lefuge Home committee wanted to build a main administrative block in a position which would obscure the Guide Dogs' Training Centre. By May, 1952, it became obvious that the two concerns could no longer work together harmoniously, and that the Training Centre would have to move, although at that time the committee envisaged moving no further than a little way down the road. The Lands Department was asked to survey a block of land about three-quarters of an acre in extent and negotiations were set in hand with the committee of the Dogs' ltefuge Home to see if they would be prepared to buy the Training Centre buildings if the concern were to move. At first the negotiations seemed successful, and the secretary was able to report to the committee of the Guide Dogs Association
at its meeting of 18th July, 1952, that the Dogs' Refuge Home had agreed to purchase the buildings and improvements at the cost price of £1,086. Later, however, the price it actually paid was only £400.
While the negotiations with the Dogs' Refuge Home and with the Lands Department for land were proceeding, Miss Bridge carried on with training at the Centre. The first guide dog trained in Australia was ready for its blind owner in August, 1952. It was delivered to Mrs. Elsie Mead. Mrs. Mead has set down in print in a small booklet, published in September, 1958, called The Path[inder: A Tribute to the First Australian-Trained Guide Dog, her reactions to having the guide dog, Beau; and her excellent account forms a record of the effect that owning a guide dog has on a person deprived of sight. It is a sensitive yet common-sense description owing nothing to the exaggerations of fiction, and the booklet is illustrated by very good pictures.
A little over a month later Miss Ann Green received the dog, Terry. Terry was a cross-bred Border Collie, and Beau a Kelpie-Fox Terrier cross; both, perhaps, the exceptions that proved the rule that Labradors were best. Mongrels are usually very intelligent, and Beau seems to have been not only extremely intelligent but also hardy and long-lived. At the date of writing, he is still alive: one looks at him in his comfortable retirement with the respect that a human being of notable attainments commands.
Both Mrs. Mead and Miss Green showed their gratitude for their dogs by handsome gifts of cutlery and china to the Training Centre. Guide dogs were supplied free of charge to suitable applicants but were to remain the property of the Centre throughout their lives. They could be recalled if not receiving proper attention, and great care was exercised in ehoosing the recipients, who were required to sign an agreement undertaking to keep the dog in good condition, not to lend it to other persons, not to breed from it and to observe various other conditions.
Before being allotted a guide dog, a blind person had to undergo a month's training at the Centre. This included two daily walks with the dog, lessons in grooming, feeding and general care. The dog was in continuous company with the person, and during this period the dog's affection transferred from the trainer to its new owner. Every effort was made to select people and dogs whose temperaments would blend harmoniously.
The necessity for funds to provide for the running of the scheme, not to mention financing the erection of another Training Centre when the land for one had been found, now became urgent. Committee meetings of the later part of 1952 were all geared to fund-raising, and the forthcoming street appeal. As early as October, 1951, the Guide Dogs committee had applied to the Chief Secretary's Department for permission to hold a street appeal. They were allotted the date of 31st October, 1952. It was the custom in Perth for two charitable organisations to hold their appeal on the same day; and to the committee's dismay they found that, by some foolish reasoning of bureaucracy, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Appeal had been coupled with that of the Institute for the Blind. This pleased neither organisation, for obviously both appeals would draw on the sympathies of the same section of the population: to the detriment of both causes. The chairman was deputed to try to have the date changed, and it was finally set at 16th January, 1953. This time the Association was paired with the Australian Legion of Ex-Scrvice Men and Women.
It had been decided, for continuous fund-raising apart from the street appeal, to use house-to-house collectors, and to award them a ten per cent commission of their total takings. Four months later this commission was increased to twenty per cent, and the Association had a small band of willing workers at this job.
For the street appeal, two sub-committees were set up--one to deal with the mechanics of the appeal, consisting of Mrs. Gibbon, Miss Bridge, Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Keall; and the other, with Messrs. J. A. Dimmitt, Clarkson, Cook and R. Dimmitt (the President's son, who now represented the Claremont Apex Club on the committee) to organise visits to commercial houses and factories, to inform and interest them in the guide dog movement with the hope that large or continuing donations would be made. Special letters were sent out to wool brokers, architects, builders and others, introducing Mr. Cook, who was to call on them with his dog, Dreena. Thirty thousand buttons for the street appeal were ordered from Melbourne. Collection boxes had been placed on the counters of many different shops and offices, both in the city and the suburbs. Two films, Eyes for the Blind and Count on Me, were shown at the Shell Theatrette, more for publicity and in an attempt to interest representative people than to raise funds, the evening only bringing in about £20 dear. Later, the film Eyes for the Blind was shown at the Mayfair Newsreel Theatre in the centre of the city, by the courtesy of the Manager, Mr. C. J. Moss, as publicity for the street appeal.
When it finally took place, the first street appeal for the Guide Dogs for the Blind was a great success. It brought in over £1,580. Approximately 25,000 buttons had been sold and a donation of £58 from A. T. Brine and Son had been received to place against their cost of £155.
The committee's finances were now in quite a healthy state. The Association was able to repay a loan of £100 made to it by Mr. S. Clarkson for preliminary expenses for the street appeal, and to refund to Miss Bridge the stun of £64 to reimburse her for forfeiture of her assisted passage from England to New Zealand. Her fare from New Zealand to Western Australia had already been paid by the Association.