Hundreds of paws padded aboard the excursion train in Old Sacramento Saturday morning.
But, this was no sightseeing journey; these puppies were on a work trip.
“There’s a lot of different surfaces – there’s cobblestone, there’s wood, there’s the pier they can walk on,” Kathy Harwell of Elk Grove Guide Dogs explained.
Aged eight weeks to 16 months, these dogs are in the first stages of training to be guide dogs. That means being prepared to stay focused in everyday and unusual circumstances, like those one might encounter in Old Town Sacramento.
“On public transportation the dogs need to be able to lay still and quiet in a small space. They can’t block the aisles,” Harwell explained. “So this part of their training [is] to learn how to lay still and get small because they’re pretty big.”
Three eight week old puppies are going home with new families to be raised and given basic training for 16 months before giving them over to formal training and their visually impaired partners.
“It takes a special person to raise a guide dog, I don’t think I could ever do it. I’m so attached to him I don’t think I could ever give him up,” Chris Pitcher said.
Pitcher is one of those visually impaired partners. He’s had Hodges for two and a half years. Before that, he used a cane to navigate the world.
“Like finding curbs, doorways, elevators, escalators and helps me avoid objects. Like with a cane you’re kind of looking for them but with a guide dog they help you avoid the objects,” Pitcher explained. He said his experience with the program has been wonderful and that’s the sweet that makes the bitter worth enduring.