Alaska Airlines holds guide dogs in training event
Oakland International Airport was a normal, bustling airport on Sunday morning until the VIP's showed up.
"It's quite an active maze of excitement for a person, let alone a dog," said Maya Scott, a visually-impaired guide-dog handler.
One day each year, Alaska Airlines invites Guide Dogs for the Blind to bring a group of puppies-in-training into the airport for an orientation trip to a place that can be pretty disorienting.
"There's such an amazing amount of choreography that just happens in an airport -- including wheelchairs and bags and things that go clank and boom and people with wands," Scott said.
The pups began, like we all do, at security with its assortment of sounds and distractions. Next, following the nice lady with the squeaky toy, they caravanned through the concourse to the boarding gate, capturing the attention of their fellow travelers. Then it was down the weird-looking hallway and onto the plane, where things really got cramped. Guide dogs have to sit quietly at the feet of their human partners, sometimes for hours on end.
"For them to be comfortable in their very small space and doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing is key," said Lora Harrison, guide-dog puppy raiser.
And perhaps the most challenging test of all -- fitting into a restroom that most people can barely get into alone.
"I thought stalls -- like, regular stalls were hard enough. So, that was pretty impressive," said Megan Fairchild, guide-dog puppy raiser.
It's all part of being a service animal -- even though the very definition of that may be changing.
Delta Airlines has announced it will only allow service dogs with vaccination records and a doctor's certification of disability. Guide Dogs for the Blind thinks that's going too far.
"You know, the effect is it jeopardizes access for those that have legitimate service dogs," said Vanessa Lyens, training director of Guide Dogs for the Blind.
There's no doubt these guys are legit, and with experiences like this, and about a year of training, they'll one day be guiding their human companions through the bustle of airports -- and the challenges of a better life.