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October 28, 2011

Training is for the dogs

by Will Kempton

One after the other, their paws clicked against the metal ramp leading into the bus — Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Poodles and a handful of mutts. Some were veterans of riding transit, some nervous newcomers. On the end of each dog’s leash was a handler participating in a unique service animal training offered by the Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority (OCTA).

For more than 15 years, OCTA has organized an annual training day for service animals allowing dogs — or other service animals — the chance to ride the bus in a controlled environment. The training is vital because many animals can be apprehensive of the vibrations and noises made by the bus and from the opening and closing of bus doors, making the ride difficult for the animal and their handler.

 

The training, which took place on a recent Saturday, drew approximately 125 people from throughout Southern California. Facilitated by our Training Operations Department, the event covers a half day and begins at a park-and-ride facility. Buses that are not in service arrive approximately every 20 minutes and travel a route of about six miles roundtrip. The coach operators pull in at bus stops along the route, allowing dogs and their handlers to exit and enter as often as they’d like.

 

In addition, for the fourth year, OCTA teamed up with Knott’s Berry Farm to allow animals and their handlers to enter the theme park free of charge. This provides an excellent opportunity for dogs to become acclimated to situations that are often crowded, loud and unfamiliar.

Dennis Cajili, who works with the organization Paws for Healing, said this training is a perfect opportunity to socialize a dog.

“This is really good because of the controlled environment OCTA offers,” he said. “Being out in public can be overwhelming for a dog, and I don’t want to expose one to the public without proper training.”

Cajili, and others who attended, said they greatly appreciated the annual training because there are very few similar opportunities.

“The more the dogs experience, the more they can do for people and the less they will be afraid,” said Sharon Fry of Tackett Service Dogs.

Over the years, OCTA has developed a strong relationship with agencies that serve those with special needs, nonprofits and private companies that train service animals. Unique to Orange County, they help spread the word about the event throughout Southern California. The Training Operations Division also teams up with our Public Communications and Media Relations Department to publicize the event and promote participation.

We all know that transit provides a critical public service for millions of Americans. At OCTA, more than four million times a month a passenger boards one of our buses and many of those passengers have special needs.

One of our greatest responsibilities as a public agency is to ensure that all of our customers feel safe and secure regardless of their needs. The service animal training does a remarkable job in accomplishing this goal.

Whether those who participated in the training are on buses here in Orange County, or in San Diego, Los Angeles or Palm Springs, we are very happy to provide the opportunity to enhance their transit riding experience.

I would encourage other agencies throughout the country to consider similar training. We would be very pleased to provide any information or assistance regarding this worthwhile program.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "'One for the rail fans" here.


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Author Bio

Heather Redfern

Public Information Manager, SEPTA


Marcia Ferranto

President/CEO, WTS International

Marcia Ferranto is President/CEO of WTS International.


Scott Belcher

President and CEO, Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America)


Joe Zavisca

Joe Zavisca is an independent consultant specializing in paratransit service.


Paul Mackie

Communications Director, Mobility Lab

Paul Mackie is communications director at Mobility Lab, a leading U.S. voice of “transportation demand management.”


Rob Taylo

Founder/CEO SinglePoint Communications

Rob Taylo is founder/CEO of SinglePoint Communications, an exclusive U.S. distributor of WiFi in Motion.


Joel Volinski

Director, National Center for Transit Research at CUTR/USF


Brian Antolin

Consultant, Transportation and Travel Industry


Zack Shubkagel

Partner/Creative Director of Willoughby Design

Zack Shubkagel is partner and creative director for the San Francisco office of Willoughby Design, a strategic branding and design firm.


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