Delighted Air Travelers Treated to ‘Seeing Eye’ Puppies in Training
Air travel is stressful enough, but sometimes the sight of a puppy bounding beside its master down an airport hallway can melt all that anxiety away. On April 1, travelers were treated to the spectacle of 89 puppies in Newark Liberty International Airport — except they weren’t there to play — they were there to work. For the past 20 years — the Seeing Eye — a Morristown-based group that trains dogs to help the visually impaired descends upon Newark International Airport with their youngest pooch recruits as part of a four-month training program before they can be paired with their owners-in-need.
This guide dog school was founded in 1929 by Morris Frank after he was inspired by a 1927 article written by dog breeder and philanthropist Dorothy Harrison Eustis about guide dogs assisting blind World War I veterans. Their mission then, which still exists today, is to “enhance the independence, dignity and self-confidence of people who are blind, through the use of specially trained Seeing Eye dogs.” The Seeing Eye breeds and raises puppies to become guide dogs. The training process to graduate is substantial. At the airport, a mix of Labradors, poodles, golden retrievers and German shepherds — most under a year old — were taken through their paces for nearly three hours. The task at hand was to socialize the puppies amongst the confusion and chaos that often accompanies air travel. “The exposure’s the most important, because when they are with their graduate — their new owner — they’re going to be going out to lots of different places and being exposed to so many different things,” dog trainer Casey Johnson told New York television station WCBS. Volunteer handlers took their pups through ticketing, security checkpoints and getting on a plane. One puppy was even frisked. You can watch the Seeing Eye Dogs making their way to the gates with their handlers and boarding the plane in the YouTube video taken by NJ.com. Once they are in the cabin, they are trained to lie down in front of their owner with their bodies halfway under the seat. That space, which was once reserved for carry-on items, is now a spot for Seeing Eye Dogs to rest. As they exited the plane, one black Labrador puppy stopped before a group of children and rolled over for a belly scratch. About 500 puppies are born each year at the school’s Breeding Station in Chester Township. They are placed in trained volunteer homes to be raised for 12-14 months and then undergo four months of extensive training. The Seeing Eye pairs about 260 people who are blind with guide dogs. Even if you don’t have plans to travel anytime soon, you can get your puppy fix on April 8 when another group of puppies-in-training will return to Newark for their airport instruction.
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