Service animals are pets to their owners at home, but as soon as they step out, they’re on the job.
For Guiding Eyes dog, “Caffrey,” his job is to be part of a team with his owner Tonya Corujo. Together, they go to a variety of places, run errands and maybe even take a trip.
In the past few months, Caffrey was attacked by the same dog twice in and around Corujo’s apartment building. Though puncture wounds to Caffrey’s ears have since healed — Corujo says he still gets anxious.
Inside their home, Corujo says Caffrey is fine, but leaving the apartment to work is a challenge since the attacks.
“When he hears or sees a dog, he gets a bit anxious and he wants to cower behind me because he just isn’t sure what the dog is going to do,” Corujo said. “Which is not fair to me because he’s been professionally trained and he shouldn’t be afraid in his own environment.”
Caffrey’s training, like all Guiding Eyes dogs, takes two years and can cost about $50,000.
Guiding Eyes prepares each dog to handle everyday situations and adapt easily no matter where their travels make take them.
When Corujo and Caffrey are out, they take initiative when there is a person with another dog approaching them. Corujo puts Caffrey in a “sit” position and then lets the other person and dog pass by.
If someone is approaching her with a young child, Corujo says she will use it as a teaching opportunity.
“I start explaining that, you know, he is a guide dog and this is what he does for me and this is how he protects me. Once I do that, I might let them pet him after that,” Corujo said.
This service dog etiquette is common, according to Ben Cawley, director of admissions for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“If you’re not sure what to do, you can approach and say, ‘hi’, but that can be distracting to the team,” Cawley explained. “Ask the handler if the dog can say, “hello,” and take a break from work. They have a lot of responsibility when they’re out. They worked hard and trained to be in public spaces interacting with the public.”
Cawley says Guiding Eyes graduates like Caffrey are ambassadors for the program, so it’s crucial for everyone to understand their role and properly approach them when they’re working.
Guiding Eyes is working with Caffrey to help him shake anxiety issues from the attacks.
“Dog attacks can cause injury but also mental stress,” Cawley shared. “We will work on getting the dog comfortable with guide work and help the dog find work positive again. Sometimes we retire teams because a guide dog is stressed out and the handler can be stressed as well.”
Every day, Corujo says she is doing her part to make Caffrey’s work life positive again.
As the team continues to work together, Corujo says she hopes her message will not only help other service dogs stay safe, but encourage all pet owners to be more responsible.
Since the second attack, the a Syracuse Police Dog Control Officer handling the case tells us the dog that attacked Caffrey has been removed from the building and the owner could face a fine after being ticketed.
Welcoming a New Guide Dog Team to Your Community:
-Don’t distract a working dog.
-Don’t give the dog table food.
-Keep your pet on his leash.
-Always ask for permission before interacting with the dog
-Help spot service dog fraud. If you encounter a service dog team that you believe to be fraudulent, alerting the handler, management or law enforcement can make a big difference.
For more information about Guiding Eyes and its upcoming Wag-A-Thon — a virtual marathon that you and your dog can do together during the month of May to support the organization, click here.
To support Caffrey and Tonya Corujo’s Wag-A-Thon efforts directly — click here.
The group is challenging people and their four-legged best friends to walk or run a cumulative marathon – all while raising critical funds to support Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s mission to provide guide dogs to people with vision loss.