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America West Plans Dog Training

August 11, 1999

PHOENIX (AP) _ For a 7-month-old, Tim held up pretty well his first time on an airplane.

He slept most of the trip and was only a tiny bit scared when the big jet flew through some turbulence during the three-hour round trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas and back.

Tim was no ordinary passenger. He’s a seeing-eye dog.

Tim’s excursion last month was to officially launch America West Airlines’ ``Puppies In Flight″ program designed to familiarize young guide dogs with air travel in preparation for future trips with their visually impaired human partners.

Kerry Luginbill, a spokeswoman for the Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier, said the idea came from a volunteer who works with guide dogs.

``There was no formal element to prepare guide dogs for air travel so at her suggestion, we started a program for it,″ Luginbill said.

America West’s partner in the program is Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc. The San Rafael, Calif.-based company trains dogs from the time they are 8 weeks old until they’re about 18 months and then pairs them with blind people, free of charge.

Pat Lawson, a Chandler woman who heads the Phoenix-area’s Guide Dog chapter and is Tim’s trainer, praised the program.

``It gives a young dog a good idea of what it’s like to be in an airport and on a plane so it’s not scary to them,″ she said. ``Usually the first time a guide dog is on a plane is when they’re flying home from our California training site with their new owner. That’s a terrible time for them to take it.″

After taking a monthly class with Lawson’s group, America West’s flight attendants voluntarily serve as training flight escorts for the guide dogs on their days off.

Depending upon seat availability, the dogs are usually put near a window seat in the cabin section and must sit at the escort’s feet, Luginbill said.

Tim, a 75-pound golden retriever who served as the first puppy in flight passed with flying colors.

``He did great,″ said Luginbill. ``He was a little concerned with some bumpy air coming in. After we landed, he was sure happy to be reunited with Pat.″

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