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Guide Dogs in Transit

Heather Redfern
Public Information Manager

Trainees on SEPTA buses are not uncommon - unless they have four legs and are furry. On Saturday, March 11, eight puppies, training to become Seeing Eye dogs by members of Montgomery County 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Club, boarded the Route 96 bus in Lansdale and headed for Montgomeryville Mall. However, the student puppies' first ride on mass transit wasn't a leisure outing to the mall; the overall mission of the trip is for the dogs to be taught basic obedience and socialization skills before they are matched with their owners - who happen to be visually impaired.

"Blind people depend upon public transportation, so the dogs really have to handle mass transit," said Sandy Marshall, coordinator of the Montgomery County 4-H group. "These dogs are their line to independence."

Marshall brought Windy, a 10-month old Labrador, on the trip. Among those joining Windy were Granger, a nine-month old German Shepherd with trainer Barb Ward; Jazzy, a 10-month old Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, with trainer Barbarann Probst and daughter Ava; and Richard, a 13-month old Labrador, with trainer Abby Pietrak and her mother Maria.

Even though it was the students' first ride on a SEPTA bus, it was not their first time together: the group gathers monthly to socialize. "I'm also planning an outing to Longwood Gardens and a camping trip," said Marshall. Probst takes Jazzy with her to church and to her job in a local school.

"Handlers regularly take their service animals-in-training on our buses," said Josh Gottlieb, SEPTA Director of Administration and Finance of Surface Transportation. "Having more than one training dog at a time is unusual -we mostly see one or two dogs at a time. We are happy to be able to assist in the service animal training process with our vehicles."

Since 1929, The Seeing Eye, Inc., has partnered with people who are blind by assisting them in enhancing their independence, dignity and self-confidence through the use of Seeing Eye dogs. Nearly 16,000 specially bred and trained dogs have brought a new level of mobility, safety, and self-sufficiency to approximately 8,000 men and women throughout the United States and Canada.

The puppies riding the Route 96 bus are owned by The Seeing Eye. The puppies will return to the organization when they reach about 14 months and then they will pair with their owners for further training.

The puppies patiently waited for their first ride on a SEPTA bus.

All aboard for a trip to the mall.

Among those joining the group on the trip were Granger, with his trainer Barb Ward.

Richard, here with trainer Abby Pietrak and her mother Maria, dressed formally for the outing.