Leader Dog’s Humble Beginning

Published in: Update - Issue 1 - 2014 »   
A black and white newspaper image of Leader Dog's three founders. Two are seated and one is standing. They are looking at each other and holding several pieces of paper

It all started with “$400 and a hatful of ideas.” - Donald P. Schuur.

On April 4, 1939, Lions Leader Dog Foundation (the name change to Leader Dogs for the Blind was to come in 1952) was incorporated as a Michigan nonprofit by Charles A. Nutting, Donald P. Schuur and S.A. Dodge, members of the Uptown Lions Club of Detroit. Their motivation to form the organization came from their unsuccessful attempt to pay for a fellow Lion, Dr. Glenn “Doc” Wheeler, to get a guide dog from the only U.S. guide dog organization existing at the time.

Posed black and white photo of the first class after Leader Dog's incorporation. They are standing outside on a lawn, and the clients are holding their Leader Dogs' leashes

Pictured from l to r: Ethel Preiss with
LD Trixie, Trainer Eugene Kelly, Al Purlnell
with LD Joy, Director of Education
Chalmers Donaldson, Calvin Smith with
LD Pal, Executive Secretary Richard Fowler
and House Mother Beulah Fowler.

In May 1939, the Foundation leased a small farm in Rochester Hills, Michigan on the corner of Rochester and Avon roads to house their new venture. Fifty dollars per month rented a farmhouse for the clients and staff, a barn for the dogs and a garage.

The house rented in 1939 would have over 12,000 clients in residence until its demolition in 2003.

Dogs were kept in the unheated barn with straw for insulation (unfit by today’s standards).

On October 8, 1939, the first class of the newly incorporated nonprofit graduated. The cost to graduate each client/dog team was $600.

Candid black and white photo of the first unofficial graduating class. Four man stand outside on a lawn, holding the leashes of their Leader Dogs, all Doberman Pinschers. Behind the four men in the background are trees and a group of spectators

From l to r: William Joyce with LD Neitzie,
Earl Morrey with LD Baron, Dr. Glenn Wheeler
with LD Hilda and Paul Brown with LD Van.

What about “Doc” Wheeler?

Doc actually received a guide dog along with three additional clients in 1938—prior to incorporation. They are Leader Dog’s “unofficial” first graduating class.