‘Leaders’ of the pack

Pups in training now so they can save lives later

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Mellissa Tallackson holds a treat while her Leader-Dog-in-training Gabby, waits for her next command. Tallackson and Gabby were among a group of Leader Dog trainers and their pups who came to the Harlem-Roscoe Fire Station No. 1 Sunday to do training exercises and work with firefighters.

Walking out of the smoke-filled test house Gunner is cool, calm and collected. His leader Harold Owens lets Gunner lead him from the house.

Gunner receives a treat upon sitting, a reward for handling the smoke and the wire steps, which his paws aren't used to feeling. The purpose of the exercise held at Harlem-Roscoe Fire Station Number Three is to allow future leader dogs to gain access to different real life situations.

Gunner is being trained to be a Leader Dog. These animals are used as guide dogs for people who are blind and visually impaired in order to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life. Each year, more than 270 clients attend their 26-day residential training program to be paired with a guide dog, according to its website www.leaderdog.org.

"This is just one of the things we do to get them ready," said puppy counselor Mary Nelson. "We try to expose them to whatever we can that they may see in the real world."

Nelson said a few months ago there was a fire at a business and the dog was able to lead the people to safety.

The dogs are picked up at seven weeks old and do typical obedience training, in addition to training at fire stations to become accustomed to sirens and lights.

Gabby, an energetic 7-month old, is being trained by Mellissa Tallackson, who said the dog did well with the training when even sitting still might have been a bit of a problem.

"It was really good because the stairs are very difficult for the dogs, because they're open stairs, but the smoke didn't phase her," said Tallackson. "It's a good opportunity for them to learn."

Capt. Ryan Alms of Harlem-Roscoe Fire Department said the event went well.

"I think it’s going great as usual. We enjoy having them out here," said Alms.

For more information about Leader Dogs visit: www. leaderdogs.com.

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