SAYLORSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Leonardo walked through the sliding glass doors and up the staircase of the Monroe County Courthouse. The yellow lab/golden retriever mix passed through the metal detector at the top of the stairs, and a sheriff's deputy used a metal-detecting wand to scan Leonardo's vest.

Fortunately, all it contained was poopie bags and business cards.

Natalie and Linette Martino of Saylorsburg trained Leonardo as a service dog for a hearing-impaired California woman. He accompanied them to court on tasks for Linette's husband, an attorney. In fact, he goes everywhere with them — it is part of his training.

Linette and her daughter, Natalie, a Penn State sophomore studying speech pathology, spent 18 months with their dogs on behalf of Canine Companions for Independence, a national non-profit organization providing highly trained assistance dogs for children, adults and veterans with disabilities.

The Martinos get the dogs at 6 weeks and keep them for a year and a half.

The pair teaches the animals basic commands, so it learns how to behave under different scenarios, such as at the mall, church, work and restaurants.

"We teach them sit, wait, shake, down, heel, which means walk to my left, and side, which means walk to my right," Linette Martino said. "We also teach them to go to their crate, beds and lie down under tables."

Linette feels like she is out with a toddler.

"You must be aware of your surroundings at all times," she said. "Things that can be potentially dangerous to a toddler can be dangerous to a dog."

The Martinos are now raising Everest III and Dutton, also yellow lab/golden retrievers.

Canine Companions cross breeds the dogs because it likes that temperament, Linette said. The labs are people pleasers; they want to make you happy. The organization uses goldens because the breed is people-oriented.

"We train daily in increments," Linette said. "From a couple of minutes to 15 to 20 minutes at a time."

The Martinos use a "gentle leader," a strap that goes around the muzzle of the dog and is attached to a leash. It is used to lead the dog around, much like a bridle for a horse. It has nothing to do with a danger of biting someone.

Linette also volunteers at the Pocono Mountain School District with her dogs, engaging special-needs students such as those in the autism spectrum.

"Kids that are hard to get to speak in the school will see the dogs and get vocal with them," she said. "It changes the whole classroom dynamics, because the kids are very curious. The kids come out of their shells."

Once Leonardo completed his training with the Martinos, he moved on to canine college in California for more specialized training to learn behaviors for the hearing disabled.

"He worked for six months with the organization's nationally renowned instructors, learning over 30 commands that are useful to a person with a hearing disability," John Bentzinger of Canine Companions said.

Leonardo became the companion of hearing-impaired Patricia Parker.

Leonardo will nudge Parker her on her leg and lead her to the source of a sound, like a doorbell or the microwave. He will nudge her and turn to the person who's calling her name. Leonardo will even alert Parker if she receives an email from the beep associated with the incoming message.

Having completed its training, the Martinos will have to give up Dutton on Aug. 4.

"It's the hardest thing you'll ever love to do."




Information from: Pocono Record,