Guide dog in training
Submitted by Eleanor Stephens
Trainee guide dogs in Leeds, West Yorkshire are continuing their training during the pandemic thanks to a local bus operator.
When the latest lockdown restrictions were announced, sight loss charity Guide Dogs stopped using public transport to train future guide dogs, to help keep staff and the public safe.
As all trainee guide dogs need to get used to bus travel, this meant that some dogs have been unable to progress with their training.
The Guide Dogs’ team in Leeds put out an appeal to bus companies asking for support and First Leeds offered the use of a bus for this training activity to take place.
Trainers and future guide dogs are being allowed to train on a bus in a controlled area of the First Leeds depot in Bramley and also took a short journey to get the dogs familiar with travelling on a bus.
To ensure everyone involved stays as safe as possible whilst the training was undertaken, social distancing and strict hygiene measures were adhered to at all times.
A Guide Dogs spokesperson said: “We’re extremely grateful to First Leeds for allowing us to use their out of service buses to train our future guide dogs.
“Learning to travel on a bus calmly and confidently is an important part of any guide dogs’ training, helping to prepare them for their future role as a life-changing guide.
“Having access to an empty bus, provided by First Leeds, means our trainers and dogs can work in a safe environment and that we can continue to provide our essential services to people with sight loss.”
Mark Flynn, operations manager at the Bramley depot, said: “We were delighted to answer this request and help Guide Dogs with their important work in training puppies.
“As restrictions ease and more people begin returning to bus travel, we are working hard to support their journeys, which includes vulnerable passengers.
“We provided a dedicated bus in a safe environment for the activity to take place where the trainers were able to undertake various exercises and procedures a puppy needs to go through on its journey to become a working guide dog.”
In line with the latest Government advice, Guide Dogs offices across the UK remain closed to the public, with only essential staff, who cannot work from home, using their sites.
A guide dog begins its training at around 12-14 months old and, in normal circumstances, most dogs qualify as working guide dogs by the age of two.