Future Guide Dogs Learn to Ride METRO
Thursday, March 03, 2016 4:36 PM
Hershey scampered up the steps of a METRO bus.
The four-month-old chocolate lab was the youngest of six dogs who boarded a bus at the West Bus Operating Facility last Saturday, learning the sounds and motions of both a local and commuter bus.
Five of the dogs were Labrador puppies under two years old who were learning to ride METRO with volunteers from the Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers – Houston Club. The sixth canine, Rivers, a Golden Retriever/Lab, was a working guide dog getting a refresher.
Volunteers raise the future guide dogs from the time they are eight weeks old until 15 months old – and then the dogs fly to San Rafael, Calif., headquarters of Guide Dogs for the Blind, for formal training. Prince, the largest lab of the group, flew to San Rafael today.
This was the first time the club worked with METRO to give the dogs travel training. “The dogs did very well,” said Brandy Arojo, METRO’s Mobility coordinator, who helped plan the event. (pictured on the right).
“It was excellent,” said Cindy Holifield, a Lone Star volunteer who coordinated the event. “The dogs settled down into riding on the bus very quickly. We didn’t have any issues. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience.” The dogs were trained to sit under the seat of their handler or between their legs.
Harold Williams, a bus operator for 28 years, drove the dogs around the bus facility in an MCI coach bus and a local articulated bus.
“The biggest difference was the height of the steps from an MCI to an Artic,” said Williams. “They asked me to kneel (lower) the buses so the dogs would hear the sounds, let the ramps out so they could hear the sound of the ramps. I rode them around the yard to get used to the engines.”
Holifield said METRO was extremely accommodating, letting the dogs and their handlers get on and off the bus. The luggage compartment door was opened and slammed shut so the dogs could learn the sound when someone loads a bicycle in the belly of the bus.
Later, Williams drove the group to Memorial City Mall where the group walked around and then practiced what they had just learned by getting on the 162 Memorial Express with the public. Hershey, Nobu, Rivers, Rosalie, Prince and Forenza - and their handlers – had learned their lesson well.
“It was very fun. The dogs were really fast learners. I think they loved it. A couple of them didn’t want to get off,” said Arojo. “Everything went perfectly.”
In the photo posted, left to right: Greg David and Rosalie, Melissa David and Prince; Kellie Dewveall and Rivers; Mitch and Jonette Malone; Cindy Holifield; Drew ALtamoro and Forenza; Diane Kraxberger and Hershey; Tabitha Baibos and Nobu. Kneeling is Ashanti Brown, Mobility coordinator at METRO.