We’ve all heard about guide dogs, those beautiful souls that are specially trained to help blind or sight-impaired humans live their lives to the fullest. They enable their humans to navigate busy streets and remain steadfastly at their sides.
With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions placed on individuals, guide dogs are truly coming to the fore. Thomas Panek, a blind runner, came up with the revolutionary idea of training guide dogs to be running partners for the blind and has his own running guide dog in the form of Blaze, a Labrador retriever. A serious athlete, usually accompanied by a volunteer to lead him when running, Thomas realized the frustration of runners who had to stop because of the pandemic.
It was considered inadvisable for guide dogs to run as their ‘guiding’ could be compromised and their health could even be affected. Panek took over a concern called Guiding Eyes and decided to develop a running guide dog program. Certain modifications to the dog’s harness were necessary as it had to be both comfortable and durable. The dogs had to be specially trained to avoid obstacles and stay on course. Panek and his team were delighted by the results which showed the dogs were able to guide while running and seemed to enjoy it more. Panek’s success has prompted him to give presentations on the system worldwide.
Guiding Eyes gets many applications for guide dogs every year but is only able to help a percentage of these. As many as 10-15% of applicants want a dog that can both navigate and run. According to Guiding Eyes, it costs approximately $50 000 dollars to raise, train, and provide lifelong care for each guide dog. Quarantine and restrictions on travel have impacted the program negatively as dogs have not been able to be placed with pet parents. While lockdown and restrictions may be here to stay for a while longer, thanks to the running guide dogs, blind runners will be able to lead a more active and enjoyable life.
Feature Image Source: Pixabay