or she takes each dog through a downtown route. It can be a hair-raising experience, watching the dog to see how it reacts to every car, curb, pedestrian, on-leash pet, and the limitless combination of stimuli and distractions encountered along the way. Meanwhile, he must keep the blindfolded instructors constantly informed of their surroundings, always with an eye out for their safety, and keeping mental notes on the dogs’ performance the entire time.
In addition to helping to determine whether a dog should be removed from training, the blindfold exams are crucial in the matching process. Lang and others constantly check the needs of applicants in terms of a dog’s size, pace, pull and personality and watch for dogs in training that could form a good match. “I can keep an eye out for a nice, slower paced dog for an older student or for a quick, confident dog for one of our especially active graduates,” he explained.
After so many years walking the Morristown sidewalks, often blindfolded himself, Lang knows every crack, every utility pole, the pattern of every traffic signal, and the location of the coldest spots on every training route. “We’ll get around this corner, and it’s going to feel much cooler,” he told two apprentice instructors during an August mid-term exam. “Of course, in January, it’s not so comfortable,” he said, listing the next three worst spots in town on a cold winter day.
In between all the phone calls and the blindfold exams, Lang stays actively involved in the training of each class, walking along with the instructors and their students or driving the van that pulls out in front of a dog guide team for what’s known as a “traffic check.”
It would be impossible for such a career to go unnoticed by the greater dog guide community, outside of The Seeing Eye. In July, during the annual convention of the American Council of the Blind, a consumer organization called Guide Dog Users, Inc., honored Pete Lang with the Ethel Bender Award, presented to someone who has given exemplary service to the dog guide world. “It’s impossible to sum up 43 years,” said Lang, upon accepting the award. “When I was getting ready to leave our campus to come out here, one of our newly trained students was just going out to our leisure path. To see her going out at the end of a busy day … I can’t tell you what a lift it was to see the smile on her face. That feeling has not lessened one bit for me over the years.”