Under normal circumstances, volunteer trainers with BC and Alberta Guide Dogs are asked to ride public transportation with their foster puppies in order to get them comfortable with the experience.
But due to the pandemic, Calgary training lead Sandra Cramer says her organization — which breeds, trains and places guide dogs with individuals in need — made the decision to suspend that element of the program.
“Because of the situation and the way it is, we want to leave public transit to the people that need to use it and keep our volunteers out of that mix,” she said.
BC and Alberta Guide Dogs then reached out to Calgary Transit to let them know about the issue and Cramer says they responded in a huge way, donating two buses and drivers for a puppy training day.
And on Thursday morning, many of the 20 puppies currently taking part in the program in Calgary had the opportunity to practice navigating public transit in a safe and controlled environment.
Cramer says most of their guide dog clients use public transit so it’s especially important the animals are comfortable onboard. She hopes the initiative can continue on.
“This is such a great opportunity and such a great thing to build a new partnership in a time where we’re not really building new relationships.” she said.
“This is something that I hope we’re able to foster for years to come in order to be able to provide this training for our dogs.”
Kirsten Kaarsoo, a new puppy training volunteer, spent Thursday helping her foster Merlot to learn the ropes.
“I think every time they see something new, it’s a new experience for them and they could be a little scared of it,” she said.
“The more things we can expose them to, it just makes it easier for them when they’re matched up with their owner and partner. It’s challenging for Merlot, she’s only 6 months old, and having all these dogs around is probably her biggest challenge.”
Calgary Transits acting director Russel Davies says they are excited to be a part of the puppy party.
"Being able to work with BC and Alberta guide dogs, it’s a fantastic contribution to the community I think,” he said.
"There’s a lot of people who use guide dogs that depend on Calgary transit.”
BC and Alberta Guide Dogs is currently looking for additional volunteers to be a part of its puppy training program. More information can be found online.