Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) hosted 25 Very Important Puppies (VIPs) for a special event on November 4. German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Labrador/Golden Retriever mixes. The puppies, who are currently in training with The Seeing Eye® to become guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired, visited PHL to learn how to navigate an airport from shuttle buses, elevators, and security checkpoints to boarding a plane and baggage claim.
“The puppies will one day learn to assist their blind handlers, but right now the purpose of the airport visit was to give them the socialization and exposure that will make their formal training easier, and ensure that they are not frightened nor visiting the airport for the first time, when they are fully trained later by our Seeing Eye staff instructors,” said Michelle Barlak, a representative with The Seeing Eye®. “These outings are critical to our puppies’ development and future work as guides and we are so grateful for the opportunity to make this trip possible for our puppies.”
Guests traveling through PHL will often see dogs during their journeys—the Waging Tails Brigade certified therapy dogs, TSA and Philadelphia Police Department K-9 working dogs and passengers’ support dogs are regulars — but this was the first time the airport hosted a Seeing Eye socialization session. “This was a great event for everyone involved,” said PHL Director of Guest Experience Leah Douglas. “Not only did it provide critical airport exposure for the dogs, it also provided airport staff with the opportunity to practice the skills they need to accommodate service animals. I’d like to thank our partners at United and Frontier for assisting with the event. We’re already planning next year’s program.”
The puppies, who ranged in age from 12 weeks to one year, were escorted through the airport by their raisers. The volunteers who raise their puppies in their homes and accompany them to socialization outings. For more information on The Seeing Eye and how to become a puppy raiser, visit seeingeye.org.