Saturday, December 20, 2014

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Guide Dogs Take Test Run on City Subways

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TWC News: Guide Dogs Take Test Run on City Subways
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A school for guide dogs prepares the four-legged friends for the job of guiding blind riders. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

The subway platform isn't exactly a dog's world. It's crowded and loud, with trains roaring down the tracks.

However, it's also a good spot to learn whether Scooter is cut out to be a guide dog for a visually impaired person, or a "student," as they're known.

"We have a saying that New York City is the Mount Everest of guide dog work. So we bring our dogs down here, we watch them and their demeanor to tell us whether or not they're comfortable in this environment, and if they're not, then we don't place them with a student who may live in a metropolitan area," says Elizabeth Closmore, a puppy raiser who volunteers with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Closmore raised Scooter in Brooklyn since he was eight weeks old. She took him into the subway to train him through repetition, praise and treats.

Now that he is 18 months old, Scooter is starting more intensive training at the Westchester-based guide dog school before he can be paired with a blind person.

"Walking over grates, walking on unstable platforms, hearing noise, lots of people. Familiarizing them and making sure they have a really strong foundation is incredibly important," Closmore says.

If that's in a city where a guide dog's partner gets around on mass transit, then the pooch needs to get used to platform edges, walking on and off trains, and those commands and hand signals that keep them both safe.

The dog has to get familiar with station layouts, too.

"Let's face it. New York City has a lot of subway stations. You can't possibly know them all. But you do tend to travel on the same lines the majority of the time," says one subway rider.

It costs about $45,000 to raise, train and match a Guiding Eyes dog with a blind person. Currently, 51 dogs from Guiding Eyes live in the five boroughs.

As adorable as these pups might look, it's important for riders to remember never to give the dog a pet or any food once they're in service because they're trying to get somewhere on the train, just like the rest of us.

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