Tuesday, 16 August 2022
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Service dogs in-training spend a day with Golder Ranch Fire District

For one day last week, the Golder Ranch Fire District received eight new workers—and 32 new legs. Eight service dogs in training for Guide Dogs for the Blind and their volunteer owners visited Golder Ranch firefighters as part of a critical, and cute, training exercise. 

“We need to teach the dogs to be calm, but confident,” said Ed Ehrman, a trainer for Guide Dogs for the Blind. “We do things like take them on buses and public transportation, because blind people don’t drive. We also get them used to being touched by people.” 

This latest training involved taking the dogs to a local fire station to familiarize them with firefighters and their equipment. 

“We do socialization, mainly,” Ehrman said. “The reason we’re here today is because there are situations when a firefighter might have to enter a blind person’s house, and we want their dogs to be comfortable with that firefighter.” 

The service dogs, golden retrievers and labs, toured the fire department, eagerly sniffing everything they could find. 

They wore special service dog vests and took the opportunity to enjoy the cool concrete floors of the station. 

“You can tell the guide dogs are very proud about what they do,” Ehrman said.

Firefighter Na’Derra Carey wore a full fire suit for the dogs. This included an oxygen tank and helmet. But even while she was covered up, the dogs were as excited as ever to greet Carey.

“It’s so cool just being around the dogs,” Carey said. “Getting to see how they react to the gear and making sure they’re familiar. It’s just like introducing little kids to firefighters.”

One-by-one, volunteers led their dogs up to Carey. While petting the dogs, she allowed them to smell the suit and equipment. 

Tails wagged the entire time. 

“They were a lot more friendly than I thought they would be.” Carey said. “It’s good to get them used to you.” 

After being introduced to the firefighters and their equipment, the dogs were led around the station, examining the fire engines and ambulances.

“This is exactly what we’re hoping to teach them,” Ehrman said. “They need to be mellow and confident.” 

Volunteers for Guide Dogs for the Blind receive their dogs at eight months old, and train them until they are around 16 months old. In total, the program hopes to pair 350 dogs with visually-impaired people every year. There are currently nine dogs training in the Tucson area. 

“The people who get these dogs, it changes their lives.” Ehrman said. “I’ve had a blind person tell me, ‘I used to fall off the curb all the time, even with my cane. But with my guide dog, I never do’.”

This is the only program of this nature that GRFD hosts, but based off the reception from both the dogs and employees, it might not be the only one for long. 

“I’m sure some of the firefighters want to negotiate keeping the dogs,” said Anne-Marie Braswell, GRFD Community Relations Manager. “Some of the volunteers are Saddlebrooke residents, so this is just a natural collaboration.” 

As the introductions continued and the dogs settled down, even more firefighters entered the garage, saying things like ‘I want to play with the puppies!’

“This is what we were hoping for,” Ehrman said. “The only issue for the firefighters is that we don’t have any Dalmatians here today.”

Source: https://www.tucsonlocalmedia.com/features/article_324fe558-94df-11e8-8973-d78d7bc36a66.html

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