Press "Enter" to skip to content

C-Tran helps train puppy for career assisting blind

Here’s what you need to know if you spot a 10-week-old puppy named Jamboree on a C-Tran bus.

The black Labrador retriever should have his green Guide Dogs for the Blind vest on, which means Jamboree is working or, more accurately, training for an important career.

For that reason, bus riders should resist that overwhelming temptation to pet, play with or otherwise dote on an irresistibly cute guide dog in training who has adorable puppy eyes, large paws, a soft black coat and floppy, velvetlike ears.

No word on whether taking selfies with Jamboree will be allowed. This puppy already has his own Twitter account, @Jamboree_CTRAN, and is well on his way to becoming a local celebrity.

Jamboree may know how to sit on command, but he apparently hasn’t learned what it means to “follow back” on Twitter. Nor has he mastered the time-honored practice of sucking up to the boss, because he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to return C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy’s follow.

Jamboree is training to become a service dog for Guide Dogs for the Blind, the nation’s largest guide dog school that in 1942 started training and placing dogs with people who are blind or visually impaired.

For the next year, Jamboree will be under the care and guidance of Veronica Marti, C-Tran’s lead travel trainer who helps people learn how to ride the public transit system in Clark County, and Sindy Quitugua, C-Tran’s vanpool coordinator.

People who are blind or visually impaired often take public transit for obvious reasons, which makes a yearlong stint at C-Tran a good way for Jamboree to get his transit legs.

Marti came up with the idea of training a guide dog as part of her work. The first C-Tran rider she worked with in 2013 was visually impaired and able to see only slight shadows. Marti developed a plan, got Donaghy’s buy-in and didn’t have much trouble recruiting Quitugua as her backup.

“Who doesn’t want a dog at their desk?” Quitugua asked rhetorically.

Both Quitugua and Marti went through their own preparation with Guide Dogs for the Blind before Jamboree arrived July 20.

For the next year, wherever Marti goes, Jamboree will follow. As a puppy raiser, Marti will teach Jamboree basic commands and use verbal cues, hand signals and other techniques commonly used with guide dogs. She has reconfigured her work cubicle to include a water dish, dog crate and baby gate to prevent a curious puppy from wandering.

Transit employees routinely stop by to check on the puppy that C-Tran refers to as the agency “chief guidance officer.” That includes veteran drivers who devolve into baby talk when they see Jamboree’s puppy eyes.

C-Tran’s rules allow service animals on buses but prohibit those that act aggressively toward people or other animals. In addition, service animals must be housebroken, with the animal’s owner responsible for any damage — or soiling.

“He’s working on it and actually doing really well,” Marti said when asked about potty training. “It’s amazing how quickly these dogs learn.”

One command Marti is teaching Jamboree is to “do your business.” Just to be on the safe side, Marti and Quitugua both carry with them compact dog packs that include doggy waste bags, wet wipes and puppy treats, a must for effective training.

Last week, Jamboree made his first transit trip on The Vine, C-Tran’s bus rapid transit line running largely on the Fourth Plain Boulevard corridor.

“He sat on my lap and just hung out,” Marti said. “There’s nothing that seems to bother him.”

That’s a welcomed trait in a future guide dog for the blind. Jamboree already has had his first bath in Vancouver, and Marti used a blow dryer on him afterward. He even seems to get along with Lucy, Marti’s 14-year-old black cat who now shares her home with a puppy.

“He’s smart,” Marti said. “He learned to sit in about an hour.”

Jamboree was born May 16 and spent his first nine weeks at Guide Dogs for the Blind’s headquarters in San Rafael, Calif., about 20 miles north of San Francisco. The nonprofit organization breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and Lab/golden crosses from its own stock, with an emphasis on breeding dogs that are intelligent, healthy and have excellent temperaments.

All of Jamboree’s litter mates are guide dogs in training, and all have names beginning with “J.”

Puppies spend their first year with one of more than 2,000 volunteers in 10 Western states. Puppy raisers teach their temporary charges obedience and manners, and socialize them to different people and places.

When the dogs are a little more than a year old, they return to Guide Dogs for the Blind’s headquarters in San Rafael or are sent to a second training facility in Boring, Ore., for an intensive three-month program. One key lesson they learn is “intelligent disobedience,” or to not follow commands that would put their blind or visually impaired handlers in danger.

The final step to becoming a guide dog is a two-week training program with a blind person who will be paired with that dog upon completion. More than 14,000 human-dog teams have graduated since 1942, with about 2,200 currently enjoying a special human-dog relationship.

Not all puppies have what it takes to become a guide dog that a blind person can depend on to help navigate the world. About 50 percent of dogs make it through and become guide dogs.

Dogs that wash out — euphemistically referred to as a “career change” — can be redirected to other programs, such as Guide Dogs for the Blind’s K9 Buddies Program that pairs blind or visually impaired youth with dogs for companionship and support.

Sometime in late summer or early fall 2020, it will be time for Jamboree to leave C-Tran and head to Boring for advanced training. There will be more than a few tears in C-Tran’s offices when that day arrives.

“We’re going to have a jamboree for Jamboree,” Marti said. “It didn’t take me long to realize that’s going to be a hard day.”


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: