21 visitors to San Jose airport not forced to remove shoes
Posted: 08/10/2010 10:32:51 PM PDT
Twenty-one very calm and hairy visitors quietly approached security check-in at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Tuesday night.
They seemed oblivious to the attention, but all eyes were on them. Especially when they went through security on all fours.
Code Orange? No, more like Code Puppy.
Security guards, ticket agents and passengers in Terminal A wore huge, surprised grins as the golden- and Labrador-retriever pups and their trainers negotiated the airport for the first time. The dogs — ages 4 months to 18 months — were with Canine Companions for Independence, a
Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that trains them to assist the disabled.
“This is so cool,” said 13-year-old Lauren Finley, who was smiling as the parade of dogs marched past while she checked in with her sister, Shannon, for a flight to New Hampshire following a visit with their San Jose grandparents. “They make the airport a better place.”
Canine Companions pups have taken ferry rides to Tiburon and trips to Pier 39, Santana Row and local fire stations. They have been around firefighters with all their equipment, lights on and sirens blaring to make as much of a racket as they can.
“The pups need to learn not to be afraid of people in uniforms,” said Linda Cortez, a former social worker and president of the South Bay chapter, “even if their masks are making Darth Vader-like noises.”
A few of the canines even caught the movie “Hotel for Dogs.”
“Our pups sat through it,” Cortez said proudly, “and didn’t bark back at the dogs on the screen.”
The job of the trainers on this field trip — called puppy raisers — is to keep the dogs healthy and safe, teach them basic obedience commands and socialize them with outings to wherever a potential partner might go — restaurants, libraries, doctor’s offices, workplaces, schools and, of course, airports.
At around 18 months, about two out of five dogs move on to advanced training. They often are assigned to autistic kids, disabled war veterans or the deaf.
The others don’t flunk out but “move on to different careers,” Cortez said.
These dogs may end up working with diabetics to alert their humans to sudden drops in blood sugar level. They may serve with bomb- or drug-detection units, or as search-and-rescue or pet-assisted therapy dogs.
About the only task they aren’t trained for is working with the blind.
Exposing the dogs to a wide variety of situations with different distractions — new sights, sounds and smells — is critical.
And so, armed with poop bags, absorbent paper towels and canine treats in backpacks, off they went at the airport, the dogs all wearing yellow and blue Canine Companions vests.
All juveniles should be so well-behaved. Not once were the poop bags or paper towels needed on the nearly two-hour visit. After a smooth check-in, the dogs waited nearly 30 minutes to board a parked Delta plane in Terminal B — and only two barks were heard. Except for a couple of pups licking each other’s noses, they sat or lay outside Gate 17 patiently.
The dogs will spend up to 16 months with their trainers before moving on to advanced training. It costs around $40,000 to breed and raise them, but they are given free to those needing the animals. Money is raised through donations and fundraisers, although a few federal dollars are beginning to roll in to provide companionship for the many injured war veterans.
For the trainers, letting go is never easy.
“It’s hard,” said Kasia Gawlas, 17, who will be a senior at Monta Vista High School and was working with Kennis, a 16-month-old Lab. “You get up at night with them. It feels like you’re raising a child.
“But then you know they will be helping people, and that is a good feeling.”
Cortez says there are few things that generate more reaction from other people than a young dog on an outing. Especially in a place where people don’t expect it — like at a sprawling big-city airport.
“Having one of these dogs at your side attracts people to notice you, to smile and to engage in conversation,” Cortez said. “This is a big milestone for people with disabilities who used to feel invisible in public.”
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