The class sat quietly and calmly in the lobby of MedStar Capitals Iceplex while the teacher gave her lesson. Not one of them barked.
The Capitals teamed with the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs on Wednesday with Captain, the organization’s service-dog-in-training, leading the way around their Arlington headquarters.
Six Labrador puppies, all under six months old, joined Captain for a training class. All are destined for roles as service dogs for either veterans or first responders with disabilities or people who are blind or physically impaired.
“These dogs save people’s lives,” said Deana Stone said, puppy program coordinator in the Washington, D.C. area for the Guide Dog Foundation, Captain’s puppy raiser and the class teacher Wednesday.
The dogs arrive at the foundation at eight-to-10 weeks old and stay until they’re 16-to-17 months and ready for service. Captain made his debut on the red carpet at the Capitals’ Rock the Red opening night ceremonies on Oct. 5. He has quickly amassed 49,000 followers on Instagram (capspup) and another 31,000 on Twitter (@CapsPup).
Captain and his friends walked up and down unfamiliar clear glass stairs with their handlers encouraging them and giving them treats to create a relaxed atmosphere. They had a group picture taken on the Capitals’ bench at their main practice rink.
The young dogs all walked up metallic bleachers into the upstairs lobby and then down again to the second practice rink, descending stairs with see-through grates. They all even clambered into an elevator for a one-flight ride with no drama. Outside in the MedStar parking lot, they got to walk about 50 yards leash-free.
Stone gave tips to the puppy raisers. The group included puppies Bob (with Destiny Goldsmith), Lily (Amy Briller), Plaza (Jasmine Richman), Brook (Olivia Hwang) and Evelyn (Emily Dann). Jane Gryder was there as a future puppy raiser who will get her own dog in November.
Richman, a Georgia native, is a senior at the University of Maryland, where she is a volunteer puppy raiser with Terps Raising Pups, a student group that is a chapter of the Guide Dog Foundation.
Plaza is Richman’s second puppy in training. The first, Zora, can’t be a guide dog now because she has allergies, which wouldn’t be a good fit for someone with disabilities who’d have to give extra care for her. But Zora will soon become therapy certified so she can work as a service dog in local hospitals. They all help in their own way after training ends.
“My grandfather passed away this past summer and I found out with only Zora in the room and she was the best thing for me in that situation,” Richman said. “Even just to have her there in that moment was something that I will never forget. And they all do something for their person in some type of way – whether they go with someone who is blind or whether they’re just with us when it happens. They make a difference.”
Captain will continue with his training with Stone and the Capitals. Later he will be able to hang out at the Capitals’ offices during the day or be entrusted to team staffers. His next gameday appearance will be this Sunday, Nov. 3.
As the puppy class concluded with a brief photo shoot in front of the Capitals’ offices, left-wing Brendan Leipsic pulled up. Gone for 11 days on the longest road trip of the season and just back late last night, it was a nice welcome home.
Leipsic asked if he could hold Captain and got a few licks to the face as he cradled him. Defenseman Michal Kempny smiled as he walked past the scene and gave the dogs a pet.
“Our guide dogs, they go to people and they give them a sense of independence,” Stone said. “Maybe they struggled to travel places by themselves. They always had to wait for someone who’s sighted to go with them maybe. Now they can go independently with their dogs. Our service dogs for veterans and first responders, again a sense of independence and freedom. And truly I’ve heard this before - they’re lifesavers for some of these people. They’re going to potentially go to people with PTSD and physical disabilities. There’s so many amazing things that they do.”
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