Puppies pilot to Port Angeles airport

It's a bird. No, it's a plane. Actually, it's puppies on a plane.

These special puppies are with Puppy Pilots, a puppy raiser club for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Trainers and four local dogs toured a Cesna Carivan airplane Feb. 21 at the William R. Fairchild International Airport, west of Port Angeles.

Deb Cox, president of Puppy Pilots, said the trip introduced the puppies to the sounds of aircraft, smell of jet fuel and vibrations of a plane's high speed taxiing.

Three of the four dogs were escorted onto the airplane and taxied on the runway at near full throttle. This increased the pitch and shook floorboards, but the dogs showed no fear.

Puppy Pilot's newest dog, Ajani, was slightly more than eight weeks old. He was received the day before the venture and the group felt he was too young to go on the plane.

Cox said the purpose of Puppy Pilots is to "teach these dogs behavior, obedience and socialization so that they are used to all kinds of sounds, smells and experiences."

For example, the group brings their puppies into dentist offices and hardware stores and bigger cities like Seattle and Victoria for more diversity.

"Smells in the city are way more different than here," Cox said.

Puppy Pilots, started in August 2007, has had as many as six puppies in training. Currently, the group has four puppies; three yellow labs, Ajani, Candace and Gilla; and Nunzio, a black lab.

Puppies age 8-10 weeks old are received by raisers for training. Trainers keep the dogs for about one year to 16 months before sending them to recall, a five-month, 10-phase program testing the dog's awareness to more complicated environments and circumstances.

Cox's first puppy, Ledger, is in recall in Boring, Ore. Every week she receives a report on Ledger's progress.

Once through the phases, the dogs are matched with a blind partner who will live at the facility for up to four weeks while being trained to live with the dog.

Puppy Pilots has seen one graduate be partnered with a blind individual.

Alta, a yellow lab, now lives in Spokane with a blind woman named Lynda. The group also briefly raised Finn, a black lab, who graduated March 7.

Cox and her husband, Tom, are raising Candace. She said Candace's biggest challenge is to pay attention.

"To teach a dog not to be distracted is quite a hurdle," she said.

The Cox family owns a pet dog too, Abby, who gets along well with Candace.

"Many don't think they can have a guide dog. A lot of people ask if it's OK to have a pet and a guide dog, but many people do it," Tom said.

"The home dog needs to be well-mannered," Deb said.

Cox said they always are looking for new puppy raisers and puppy sitters.

Interested individuals and families are welcome to come to training sessions that meet twice a month, alternating between Sequim and Port Angeles. Upcoming meetings are at 3:30 p.m. March 18 at The Buzz parking lot, 128 N. Sequim Ave., Sequim, and 6:30 p.m. April 1 at Irwin Dental Center, 620 E. Eighth St., Port Angeles.

"It's not like a pet. I don't want to give the perception it isn't fun. It is just structured," Deb said.

Puppy Pilots is a nonprofit organization. It welcomes donations for kennels, food, toys, etc.

Contact Deb Cox at deb@ or through the Web site for more information.

Matthew Nash can be reached at

Puppy-raising requirements

n Members of household must be

committed to raising a puppy

n Trainers can be adults or youths, at least age 9

n Home life must provide a safe and secure

living environment for puppy

n There must be a compatible relationship between

puppy and other pets

n Puppy must sleep indoors

n Trainer must join local puppy raising club

and attend club meetings and outings

n Trainer must provide daily exercise and socialization for pup

n Trainer will be responsible for food and incidental expenses, but these are tax-deductible

Guide/training dog etiquette

n Petting: Trainers wish that people ask first because a dog might not be at a level to handle the attention. It also could distract the dog from its partner, thus endangering his/her life.

n Calling: Whistling or yelling for a guide dog leading a blind person can be dangerous because it can distract the dog from its duties.

n Food: Don't offer a guide dog food because they are on a strict diet and regimen.

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