THE BIG BLACK LABRADOR STANDS UPRIGHT LIKE A STATUS, GLARING DIRECTLY at the guest walking into the California office of financial adviser Alan Rosenberg.
Rosenberg jokes about needing protection after some of his stock recommendations, but the dog is actually not a guard dog.
It is a guide dog.
Rosenberg is legally blind. He doesn’t need a guide dog himself. But he trains dogs through Guide Dogs of America to serve the blind.
He decided to train dogs for the program after his 9½-year-old Rottweiler, Cora, died of cancer in 2000.
“I wanted to do something for the community,” he says. “Since I’ve trained dogs of my own, I felt this would be something good to do for someone who depends on a guide dog every moment of their life.”
Rosenberg, who can function without a guide dog because he’s equipped with built-in bioptic telescopic eyeglass lenses, underwent an interview process with Guide Dogs of America before he got his first dog in July 2000. Under the organization’s guidelines, Rosenberg agrees to train the pup for 18 months.
The organization then takes the dog back and spends four months determining if it is qualified to be a guide dog. During that period, the blind individual paired with him lives at the organization’s facility in Sylmar, Calif., and works with the dog.
Nearly half of potential guide dogs fail the testing process, so to Guide Dogs of America is very particular about selecting a dog to be a guide.
The organization runs dogs through a series of drills to see how they react. For instance, in one particular exercise at the monthly evaluation sessions, a head trainer walks through a group of 50 dogs and trainers with a cat. No reaction is the best reaction.
“They’ll also fire off a gun to see how the dog reacts,” Rosenberg says. “They try to make the dog fail. They try to freak the dog out because it has to be 100% focused on his role as a guide dog.”
A guide dog in training cannot be taught any tricks. He cannot be thrown a ball or Frisbee. Imagine the trouble if the dog was walking through a park with a blind person and suddenly chased after a flying object.
“The guide dog can’t get distracted by anything,” Rosenberg says. “After all, they hold a blind person’s life in their hands.”
Rosenberg takes his dogs everywhere, including restaurants, supermarkets and even casinos, where there’s a lot of noise, bells, people and lights. “Plus, I get to play a little blackjack,” he says with a laugh.
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