Puppies training to be guide dogs charm their way through John Wayne Airport
Ian set off the security alarm at John Wayne Airport and had to be patted down. He responded by kissing the TSA agent.
It was OK, though. Ian is an 8-month-old puppy learning to be a guide dog for the blind.
On Saturday June 1, 2019, 11 labradors ranging from 6 to 17 months old were shuttled to the airport on a bus with Guide Dogs of America volunteers. The puppies were there to get familiar with the sights, sounds, scents and procedures of an airport.
And yes, “When dogs set off the security alarm they have to be searched,” Transportation Security Administration Officer Julie Sullivan said.
Airport training is important, said Joanne Russell, a volunteer co-leader who has raised nine puppies since 1996. “After they experience something, they become more confident. It’s all muscle memory,” she said.
“Our job is taking them from elementary school to high school,” Russell said.
Puppy raisers teach obedience, social skills, and house manners – sitting for their food, no jumping on the furniture, no getting into the trash or grabbing food from the counter. Once they learn all that they go off to college, where they work with a certified trainer at Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar for another 6 to 8 months.
The 11 pups and their “puppy raisers” from the Orange County and Long Beach/South Bay chapters met Saturday at the airport’s John Wayne statue, where they sniffed the actor’s bronze shoes and posed for group photos before getting to work in their bright yellow vests.
The dogs walked to the ticket counter and then through security. Carol Ann Heinis, a Guide Dogs of America employee, coached the puppy handlers. “In new situations it’s OK to help your dog even if it means giving a food reward and getting slimed,” she said. “We want to make sure this is a positive experience.”
After clearing security, the pack passed the seating area, where passengers stopped to take pictures and marvel over the puppies. “They look so happy,” one man said.
Then they visited the pet relief area for a potty break – after being instructed to “get busy.” The trainers removed the puppies’ vests so they knew they could relax.
“This is a wonderful journey,” Russell said. “It’s great for the community. It’s great for the dogs. It’s great for the puppy raisers. In the end, it’s wonderful for the blind person. It gives them the freedom to do things on their own. They can have independence again.”