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Assistance Dogs Gain “Firstpaw” Experience in Riding the Bus

Paws With a Cause Dog

When riding the bus, you may not expect to see a dog sitting next to you. But at The Rapid, we know that help comes in many forms. That’s why service animals such as assistance dogs are always welcome on board The Rapid’s buses and paratransit vehicles.

In honor of National Dog Week from Sept. 22-28, 2019, The Rapid and Paws With A Cause® have partnered to increase awareness for the work of assistance dogs and the independence they provide to people with disabilities. On Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, seven assistance-dogs-in-training and their handlers visited Rapid Central Station. This was an opportunity for these assistance dogs to experience all of the sights and sounds of public transportation and show off their skills at maneuvering the bus.

With help from The Rapid’s Travel Trainers, dogs and handlers were provided information and practical experience for riding the bus. Assistance dogs and handlers were able to tour Rapid Central Station and the platform where an average of 9,000 riders pass through each day. They then boarded the Silver Line for the full transit experience.

“It was a joy to see so many assistance dogs visiting The Rapid. Most of us have had a dog that’s become our best friend and part of our family, and for people with assistance dogs, that bond is even greater,” said Lisa Young, Communications Manager at The Rapid. “The Rapid offers travel training services to individuals who need some extra help learning how to ride with us. Why not offer the same services to these four-legged helpers in training?”

Paws With A Cause® Custom-Trained Assistance Dogs are placed throughout the country with their individuals with disabilities. Many of these dogs become vital assistants to individuals who ride public transportation every day to get where they need to go. These dogs can perform tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, fetching dropped items, alerts individuals with seizure disorders, and so much more. Hands-on learning provided through travel training opportunities such as this one ensures that these dogs are prepared for their future.

“We want to prepare our dogs to work in environments of multiple varying distractions so that they are comfortable doing their job for their clients in everyday life,” said the PAWS Training Team. “It is very likely that our dogs will end up on some sort of public transportation at some point, so an experience like this one is invaluable.”

Aside from great experience for assistance dogs, this travel training opportunity also allowed for The Rapid’s team and fellow passengers to experience these dogs training. Altogether, this increases awareness of the rights and roles of Assistance Dog Teams through education.

Here are the top three things to remember when you see a service dog:

  1. The dog’s job is to focus on completing tasks for its owner or handler.
  2. Your behavior should not interfere with this focus. This means no petting, talking to, or bothering the dog!
  3. The handler is trying to complete his/her own activity. Even if the handler is out to dinner, the handler is not there to entertain you or to answer your questions.


Written by The Rapid

The Rapid (Interurban Transit Partnership) is the authority that provides a variety of public transportation services for the Grand Rapids metro area and beyond. It is organized and operates under Michigan Public Act 196 of 1986.