28 February 2011

Trimet Max Continues to Shock Guide Dogs

Many guide and service dog teams frequent the tri-county area we live in by reliance upon fixed route bus and max trains. This ability to travel independently gives us freedom to go where we want, when we want, with little concern of safety issues associated with our highly trained dogs at our side. Thats the atmosphere one seems to experience for the most part, however, its not necessarily a true picture from our dogs perspectives.

From as far back as 2000, Guide teams have noted their dogs being shocked when disembarking trains on the westside of the Blue Line. These events seem to happen more frequently during arctic or excessive humidity times. Though claims are often made that the problem is fixed, teams continue to be plagued by the shocks. Various feedback includes putting boots on dogs which can't be done in icey conditions without your dog constantly doing the four way splits, making sure your dog does not walk on rails (now how in the world can you cross the tracks without doing that one?) and the one I laugh the hardest at- don't exit the trains through the doors that have ramps at them - deployed or not, they have a higher incidence of shocking the dogs! It seems to me that something crucial has been missed in the design, track laying, electronics or something in the west side stops- otherwise this problem would be plaguing the east side of the blue line, as well as the red, yellow, and green lines. Tri-met has blamed the electric company before so its possible its not so much about the max trains and rails but the currents. There've been lots of news and blog pieces over the past ten or eleven years detailing the mechanics of how this occurs, but I'm not going to focus on any more of that. I think its important to look at it not from the human and mechanical perspective (or the errors in construction if thats where they lie) but from the perspective of these specially trained guide and service dogs.

Try and put yourselves in the mind of a guide dog. Your waiting in harness with your handler at the door entrance for the train doors to open when the doors do open you receive a hefty jolt. You yelp and lunge forward. For a trained guide or service dog, this kind of action could lead to an accident for your handler. You are a highly trained dog and you do your very best with the stresses of everyday life- big rigs, forklifts, pestering children, teenagers who don't know how to walk a straight course, skateboards, out of control yapping dogs, but to be shocked for doing your job is a stress that many wonderful working teams are traumatiized by which should NEVER happen. 

The result of being shocked just one time can have negative consequences on the work performed. At the very least, rushing the max entrances and exits will be a problem from such a negative experience. Outright refusal to board a max train at all can happen. Both of these may be temporary problems, or they may turn out to end a wonderful partnership- shortening a long career for one of these highly trained dogs that become a disabled persons eyes, ears, hands, feet, medical alerts. 

Depending upon the training method used by the program or owner trainer, there can be differences in how the future unfolds for some dogs.Coercive, corrective, negative stimuli to stop unwanted behavior- such a shock could be considered by dogs trained in this manner to mean you don't pass that path. Can you see where this is going? If you can't pass a doors entrance you certainly can't go about your days routine. For those trained with OC methods- positive reinforcement, non-punishment or corrective measures, this kind of experience can be quite surprising at the best, but can also be difficult to convince them that the bad boogie man won't zap them again. Its especially difficult because you never know when or where on the west side, a dog will be shocked. Certainly not all shockings are reported, but many fortunately are. Irregardless of whether or not the shocking incidence is considered low- one shock to ANY dog trained to perform duties that they are- well its one shock too many. Trimet needs to truly fix this whoops in part of their system that many dogs can attest to the fact that it is far from fixed. 

Though the incident that sparked my interest in writing this piece was not from a shock to Thane, I do believe now that I know the signs of a dog being shocked, that Thane too was a victim of this a year ago. When will Trimet quit looking to blame other things, other people, other conditions and realize that its time for them to take action to put an end to this. Someone told me recently that this will only end when the service dog community bands together and sues Tri-met. I'd like to think, it won't have to come to that. I will admit though that I soul-search the level of need for a trip on max when its really cold and/ or wet out since we rely upon the west end of the line to start and finish our trips.

Hopefully, an end will be seen before any more wonderful dogs are given such a painful jolt.


  1. Search Google for: "rail ground hazard APTA" and read the first link regarding the necessity of using automatic rail grounding for safety. This is not just for guide dogs, it is for people, too. Trimet had rail grounding but removed it because of nuisance tripping problems. They may or may not have replaced these units as of now. There is a real electrocution hazard without them. Just read the paper.

  2. George I want to thankyou for sharing this with us. I agree with you that it is short sighted to consider it only an issue for guide dogs. I believe their thinking along these lines has to do with the fact that people wear shoes that usually (but I agree not always) have rubber soles that provide a barrier of protection.
    I know that as an individual working a guide in the area being affected, I think twice during arctic and wet weather about how necessary taking max really is for me that day.