For immediate release: April 26, 2013
Who: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and Southeastern Guide Dogs
What: Held first-ever guide dog training session
When: April 25, 2013
Where: 3201 Scherer Drive, St. Petersburg
Why: To acclimate guide dogs to the sights, sounds and feel of riding public transit
How: PSTA Staff worked with dog raisers to simulate transit rides and teach the dogs how to properly board, alight and ride transit vehicles
PSTA Safety and Security and Training Supervisor (and PSTA 2005 Driver of the Year) Theo Bakomihalis thought he had seen it all after his many years behind the wheel of PSTA buses, but he’d never seen a group of passengers like the one he encountered Thursday evening. Theo had the unique pleasure of chauffeuring 11 guide dogs in training (and their raisers) around St. Petersburg to help dogs learn how to behave when riding public transit. “They’re arguably one of the cutest… and furriest groups I’ve ever driven,” Theo says with smile. “They’re so happy and eager to get on the bus, it’s really fun.”
The puppies, which range in age from 11 weeks to 15 months, performed exceptionally well during the training and didn’t appear anxious about being on a bus for the first time. Most tended to be more interested in their fellow K-9s than concerned about the noise and vibration of the vehicle. The training involved driving the bus throughout the community and stopping at various locations to let the puppies and their raisers board and alight. “These dogs will be using public transit every day once they’re working. None have ever been on a bus before, so this is an invaluable experience to prepare them for service,” says Southeastern Guide Dogs Area Coordinator Carolyn Hersh. “This exercise gives the puppies exposure and training we just can’t simulate in a classroom.” Hersh adds that this experience along with other exposures to everyday life, helps the dogs develop into confident guides.
Southeastern Guide Dogs is an organization that trains dogs to help people with visual impairments so that it’s easier for them to live independent, vibrant and joyous lives. Through programs such as Paws for Independence™, Paws for Patriots™, and Gifted Canines™ they have more than 400 active guide dog teams s and to be able to support programs like Paws for Patriots is a great way for us to give back to the community and support our heroes who have given so much for our country,” says PSTA CEO Brad Miller.
For more about Paws for Patriots or other Southeastern Guide Dogs programs, including how to volunteer or donate, visit: www.guidedogs.org.