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Old July 20th, 2003, 06:44 AM
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Pilot program trains poodles as guide dogs

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Poodles may soon be leading the blind.

Although Labrador retrievers and German shepherds have long served as guide dogs, the poodle has a distinct advantage over those breeds - it is considered hypoallergenic.

The visually disabled who are allergic to other dogs may be able to use the curly-haired standard poodle, which stands at least 15 inches high at the shoulder.

That's why Guide Dogs of America, a Sylmar-based nonprofit organization that trains and provides guide dogs, launched a pilot program Friday. The organization gave five 8-week-old standard poodles to volunteers who will train the dogs in basic obedience.

In roughly two years, the dogs will undergo formal training, learning how to move people safely from one place to another, officials said. The organization then will match the dogs with visually impaired owners.

It costs about $38,000 to raise and train a dog but the organization provides them free to legally blind men and women in the United States and Canada.

Sharon Majewski and her husband, David, raised the pilot program poodles at their home in Vancouver, Wash. She said the animals have ideal temperaments for guide dogs.

"They love people and they really like to perform for you," she said. "They like to show off how smart they are, and how well they can teach you stuff."
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