JFKIAT, the operator of Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, partnered with The Guide Dog Foundation of Smithtown, NY, to host a puppy class for volunteer puppy raisers at JFK’s T4. The class introduced four future guide dogs in training to TSA security and the busy sights, sounds, and smells of an airport to provide socialization and exposure to everyday situations at a busy airport terminal so that the puppies can become confident guide dogs for someone who is blind or visually impaired. The partnership between JFK T4 and The Guide Dog Foundation is dedicated to giving back to the community and supporting the Foundation by providing a unique location for future guide dogs to train.
The most common breed for guide dogs is the Labrador Retriever, as they are outgoing, even-tempered, gentle, intelligent, agile, trusting, and great workers who are eager to please. All four puppies who attended were Labradors. The class at JFK Terminal 4 consisted of exercises that focused on fostering confidence, comfort, and a positive experience in the environment that they are working in, rewarded by praise through the puppy raiser’s voice, an upbeat, calm demeanor, and training treats.
Jamie Shrewsbury is a marketing associate with The Guide Dog Foundation. Standing alongside a small kiosk set up at JFKIAT, she explained how the Foundation breeds, raises, trains, and places all of their guide and service dogs. The puppy raisers usually have their dog for 14-18 months, and at that point, the puppy comes back to the Foundation’s campus, where they get formal training which is about a 3-month process. During the time the puppy is with their raiser, they attend puppy classes, meet up with other puppy raisers in the area, and participate in a variety of events that get them used to different sounds, smells, and environments that they are going to have to be used to and ready for when they go and are with someone who is blind or visually impaired.
Puppy raisers Evelyn and Peter Koestenblatt of Bellerose Village attended the class at Terminal 4 with Remi, a one-year-old female Yellow Lab. Remi is their second pup with The Guide Dog Foundation. When asked how they became involved as puppy raisers, Peter said, “We always had dogs, and I always did a lot of volunteer work, so I thought when I retire, it would be a good combination. So I looked up some volunteer opportunities and found The Guide Dog Foundation, which is in Smithtown and closest to where we live.”
Their first puppy was named Angel, who was with them for two years due to the pandemic. During that period of time, Peter said, “As much as we taught her, she gave so much right back to us, and it was truly a perfect time for us.” Angel completed the program and was certified. She is now working with a gentleman out in Seattle who has been blind since birth. He had previously always used a cane and never had a dog as a companion. Peter and Evelyn later had the opportunity to speak to the man who received Angel, and the one thing that stuck in their minds was how he spoke of the profound changes he personally experienced having Angel with him after only one week. Of their conversation, Peter said, “It was really incredible. I was uncertain whether I would raise another puppy. It was a lot of work…but to be honest, after listening to the man who Angel is now with and seeing what our family did, it was the cherry on top of the sundae. And now we are fortunate to have Remi, who we will have another four or five months until she gets through all the training, which we think she will. And we will definitely do it again!”
Sharon McComb attended the class to help celebrate Giving Bark Thursday. With her was Lindsey, a 7-month-old Black Lab. Sharon is a puppy advisor with The Guide Dog Foundation, and she serves as a support system for all the puppy raisers in Suffolk County on Long Island. Lindsey, who is being raised in Pennsylvania, has never been to Long Island, so while her puppy raiser is away on vacation, Sharon is working with her on the Island and says it has been a really good experience for Lindsey who is doing great.
As for the most satisfying part of her work, Sharon said, “As far as puppy raising goes, it really is so rewarding when you have a puppy who ultimately gets placed because you know it is unquestionably the most selfless thing you can do because you dedicate a year and your give your heart to this dog, and then they become the world; they become a pair of eyes to somebody else. It is just a touching thing to be a part of, both as a raiser and a puppy advisor. As a raiser, you have one dog that you’re dedicating your time with, and as an advisor, I get to work with between 60-80 dogs at a time, so I get just a little piece of all these dogs, and it’s so nice to have a job and a volunteer role that is so impactful. You don’t often get to find an outlet in life that is so fulfilling.
The Guide Dog Foundation is a 501-(c)-3 not-for-profit organization.
For more information: https://www.guidedog.org or 631-930-9000.