Puppy Love Breaks Out on Bonita High Campus

May 21, 2009
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Taxi, Bonita High's unofficial new mascot

Taxi, Bonita High's unofficial new mascot

Talk about your senior crushes. This couple is inseparable. They go everywhere together – to school, to church, to restaurants, to the movies, to the mall, to parks, to the beach. Occasionally, Kailey McIntyre has even been caught nuzzling her companion in the back of the classroom.

When Kailey’s mom, Vicki was asked just how much time they spend together, she bit her lip. “Every waking moment,” she said, reflecting back to the time the couple first met on Jan. 5, 2009.

Since arriving in Southern California from his San Rafael, Calif. home, he’s practically moved in with the McIntyres. If that’s not enough, Kailey’s beau has to be walked or taxied all over town, yet he’s the one named Taxi. As for homework, forget about it. He may loyally attend class, and be right by Kailey’s side, but no has ever seen him turn in a single homework assignment.

“He gets easily distracted,” Kailey said in his defense

To be honest, Taxi’s been doggin’ it from the start, because that’s who and what he is, a dog. But Taxi’s not just any hound. He’s a pure-bred Labrador, and he’s being bred and trained by Kailey and her family to be a guide dog or “seeing-eye” dog for a visually-impaired person. In fact, Taxi was chosen for this mission because of his ability to learn quickly and his good temperament.

Kailey, the other half of the love match, is a Bonita High School senior and is pretty smart, too. In the fall, she’s headed to Brigham Young University on her way to becoming a teacher. She and Taxi hooked up when she decided to raise a guide dog puppy as the focus of her senior project, which all Bonita students have to complete to graduate. So Kailey has had two jobs — full-time student and full-time lifeline to Taxi, her canine companion. Her actual title is “puppy raiser.”

Kailey gently breaks the news to Taxi that he's not a Dalmatian.

Kailey gently breaks the news to Taxi that he's not a Dalmatian.

To participate in the Guide Dogs for the Blind program, you have to have the right stuff. We’re talking about Kailey, not Taxi. She first had to attend three “puppy raiser” meetings in Diamond Bar, Calif., with a group called “Diamonds in the Ruff,” read a “War and Peace”-sized training tome and then consent to an interview at her home before she would be considered for acceptance into the program.

“I was required to fill out a lot of paperwork, answer questions and give a lot of signatures,” Kailey said. “It was like adopting a baby.”

Having successfully passed the vetting process, Kailey was told she would receive her puppy January 5 at the Best Western Hotel in Ontario. He had arrived aboard a “puppy truck” from San Rafael where he had been weaned and raised for the first eight weeks of his life. The Diamond in the Ruff’s leader, Gwen Reimann, told her only that her puppy’s name began with a “T.” A new litter of guide dogs in training are all given names with the same letter.

“My family and I came up with as many ‘T’ names as we could think of,” Kailey recalled, “and after about three emails full of names we were told that we had guessed correctly, and I would be the proud owner of a male, yellow lab called ‘Taxi.’”

Yellow dog, yellow Taxi. Well done!

It was love at first sight, but even this honeymoon had its moments. That’s because for the first eight weeks of their relationship, Taxi couldn’t leave the house, owing to the fact he didn’t have all his puppy shots. Meanwhile, Kailey worked on getting her new house mate house broken.

“He had a lot of accidents the first couple of days,” Kailey said, “but learned quickly how to wait before relieving himself. He also had trouble sleeping in his crate for first two or three nights, and would get scared and bark through the night.”

Once Taxi got the hang of things and learned the rules of the house, and after his eight-week quarantine was over, Kailey began escorting Taxi to bi-weekly puppy meetings to further his socialization skills. There she also gets advice from other puppy raisers, some of whom have raised eight or nine guide dogs.

Once out of the doghouse, Taxi started enjoying the good life, going everywhere Kailey went. He didn’t make it to the prom, however. Her real boyfriend, Justin de la Torre, finally put his paw, we mean, foot down. Justin is really one of Taxi’s biggest fans, and would never want Taxi to feel like the third wheel on an outing.

“Justin helps me a lot, actually,” Kailey said about their complicated relationship. “He actually did a similar project, but only with police and other kinds of working dogs. So at school, he helps me with Taxi.”

Inseparable companions at the mall or on the bus.

Inseparable companions at the mall or on the bus.

Although Taxi got the cold shoulder for the prom, he’s bidding to walk with Kailey during graduation. Taxi did have that one puppy accident inside J.C. Penny, but all is forgotten now.

“Taxi is really a constant responsibility of mine, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kailey said. “I am now responsible for another living thing, and sometimes it can become very overwhelming. I have had to sacrifice a lot of my own free time to take care of Taxi properly, but I have learned that I am able to step outside my comfort zone to follow the program that Guide Dogs for the Blind has designed for these puppies to be successful.”

Despite all the care and attention Kailey has lavished on Taxi, there’s no guarantee that Taxi will make it all the way to the coveted title of guide dog. To become “the eyes and mobility” of blind people, he will have to pass a series of socialization tests and master multiple commands. Even seemingly insignificant issues, like car fumes or a honking horn, can cause a dog to fail.

After working with Kailey and her family for 16 months, Taxi will be handed off to its blind master known as a handler. At that time, Taxi will begin learning to obey as many as 20 different commands as well intelligently disobey commands that may lead the handler into danger. Always, he will be judged on how confidently he responds to stressful situations.

Should Taxi and his future handler prove a good match, Taxi will become a highly coveted commodity, valued as much as $25,000 because of all the time, training and care that has gone into his development. Because of donations and the volunteer efforts of Kailey and many, many others, Taxi and other guide dogs-in training like him are provided at no or little cost to the visually impaired.

Kailey with her mentor

Kailey with her mentor

If Taxi doesn’t make the grade, he might first be offered back to Kailey and her family, an adorable, lovable, well-trained, well-behaved pet. Another option would be for Taxi to pursue another line of work. Known as a “career change” dog, Taxi could be used as a therapy dog or police dog, or if he’s a good sniffer he could work for a police bomb detection unit.

All of these potential scenarios are many months down the road. For now, Kailey is just simply trying to prepare Taxi for what lies ahead. In the back of her mind, she knows the day will arrive when she has to give Taxi up after being his inseparable companions for 16 months – a day that will not be easy for either of them.

“Yes,” Kailey admitted, “it is going to be really hard to give Taxi back after spending so much time with him. But, then I realize why I chose this project to begin with, which is to help improve the life of another person. I feel that volunteer work is one of the most essential parts of a successful community. Giving someone the ability to lead a more independent life through a guide dog is an incredible experience.

“Although I will miss Taxi, it would be more rewarding to see him succeed as a guide dog.”

Taxi, mugging for the camera.

Taxi, mugging for the camera.

2 Responses to “Puppy Love Breaks Out on Bonita High Campus”

  1. Very interesting article regarding the raising of guide dogs! I’ve always wondered how much work went into it and now I have some idea. This has got to be very, very time consuming for this young lady, with all the things a senior high school girl has to do. I commend her for her dedication. Thanks for enlightening us.

  2. What a great article. We were lucky enough to have lived across the street from Kailey and her family for a number of years. Kailey was always one of those young people who stood out among all her peers. She is a caring young woman who I believe will go on to do many amazing things in her lifetime. Thanks for sharing the story of her work with Taxi.

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