Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Dogs

Maida and Erie are not your typical dogs, taggging along on a run just for fun.

As specially trained guides for runners who are blind, these exceptional canines are tasked with safely leading the way for their companions. 

That means not only keeping up with them, but continuously making split-second decisions about how to best navigate around people, trees and traffic. 

“The faster you are going, the more challenging her work becomes,” says Pamela McGonigle, Maida’s companion. “I totally and completely trust her.” 

McGonigle was paired last year with Maida by Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit dog guide school in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.  

In addition to leading McGonigle on runs, Maida, a 3-year-old German Shepard, helps her through her daily activities. 

Because Guiding Eyes is supported by individual and corporate donations, approved applicants don’t pay anything for their dogs and training.

“First and foremost, she’s my guide dog, but running is a big part of her world,” she says. 

Erie, a 3-year-old black labrador retriever, belongs to Shawnna Maxwell from Las Vegas, Nev. The pair graduated from the running guides program in March.  

“It was a remarkable experience,” she says. “I felt freedom. I felt super independent to be able to go out and run with her.” 

Because Guiding Eyes is supported by individual and corporate donations, approved applicants don’t pay anything for their dogs and training. 

The school started its Running Guides Program—the only one of its kind in the country—in 2015 and has trained and matched 10 guide dogs and blind runners. Fifteen people are currently on a waiting list for the program, says Ben Cawley, director of admissions.

Not all guide dogs are suitable as running buddies, and only certain pups are selected for the additional training, he says.

“When we are training the dogs, we take them for a test run to see if they enjoy running and can stay focused to keep the runner safe,” Cawley explains. “Like people, if they don’t enjoy running they stop.”

The dogs and their companions first receive basic guide training before learning how to run together.  

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About the Author

Theresa Juva-Brown

Theresa Juva-Brown is a New York City-based journalist and former Gannett reporter who has covered a variety of topics, including breaking news, transportation and health. Theresa ran cross-country and track competitively for The University at Albany and has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University. She contributes to ACTIVE.com, Competitor Running, and Runner's World/Zelle. Follow her on Twitter at @TJuva.
Theresa Juva-Brown is a New York City-based journalist and former Gannett reporter who has covered a variety of topics, including breaking news, transportation and health. Theresa ran cross-country and track competitively for The University at Albany and has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University. She contributes to ACTIVE.com, Competitor Running, and Runner's World/Zelle. Follow her on Twitter at @TJuva.

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