Although modern technology has made riding transit easier and more convenient than ever, taking that first ride can still be intimidating for those who have lost their sight. That’s why Southeastern Guide Dogs and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are partnering to make that experience even easier – by training guide dogs to comfortably and confidently lead their companions when riding transit.
On Saturday, January 18, 2014, seven adorable and exceptionally well behaved guide dogs in training accompanied their handlers on a two hour exercise aboard a PSTA bus. The puppies ranged in age from six months to a year and even though they faced a plethora of new sights, sounds, smells and vibrations, they took the entire exercise in stride. The training involved driving the bus along local streets and stopping at various locations to let the training teams board and alight so the puppies could get used to the various types of bus stops found throughout Pinellas County.
“What we try to do is to take them to different places and give them different experiences, so that when they are a working dog, they won’t be upset or distracted and are better able to do their job,” says Southeastern Guide Dogs Area Coordinator John Bauer. “It’s hard work, but when you get to see your dog finally matched with a blind person, it’s immensely gratifying and wonderful to see that dog actually guiding someone and helping them get where they need to go.” Officials say that many guide dogs will be riding transit every day once in service and this kind of training, which simply can’t be simulated in a classroom, is invaluable.
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 across the country. PSTA leaders say that being able to support Southeastern Guide Dogs and programs like Paws for Patriots is a great way to give back to the community and support our heroes who have given so much for our country.
For more about Paws for Patriots or other Southeastern Guide Dogs programs, including how to volunteer or donate, visit: www.guidedogs.org.