Pilot Dogs, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio is a non-profit organization, chartered by the State of Ohio in 1950. It is the only organization in the United States that trains Doberman Pinschers in a "seeing-eye" capacity. The other breeds that they use are German Shepherds, Boxers, Vizsla, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Dogs must be between one and 2 1/2 years old and they prefer females. Only one dog in six who are brought to the attention of Pilot Dogs, Inc. finally finishes the training.

Dogs like Max are obtained through donation, but the agency also has a breeding program. These pups are placed in foster homes with "raisers" until they are a year old. It is felt that home-raised dogs adjust better to guide dog work than do kennel-raised. On average, working life is 8 years 8 months, and the cost to the organization for this service (dog, training, transportation for student, room and board, equipment, etc.) is approximately $4000. Pilot Dogs gives its trained animals to the blind at no charge. It is a tax-deductible charity and is supported entirely by public contributions.

Joanna Walker has been an important advocate of the use of Doberman Pinschers by Pilot Dogs, Inc., donating many of her puppies and adult dogs to the program. Twenty-four to 30 of the 165 dogs trained each year are Dobermans. Pilot Dogs prefers to place Dobermans with experienced handlers and looks for "special people", firm but loving to work with them.

Pilot Dogs investigated the circumstances of Max's death, as is their usual procedure when a dog is lost. There was no question it was a tragic accident with no blame to be laid except on the cab driver. They are working with Mr. Dross in his search for another Doberman and are willing to accept a dog into the program if they believe it has the right potential to be a Pilot Dog.


Max and Albert

Max, A Working Dog

Newsletter readers may remember the profile of "Max" in the Fall, 1994 issue. He was described as a one-year-old black and rust male who was turned into a shelter because his owners couldn't handle him. (He was surrendered in May 1994 to be destroyed as unmanageable). Although Max was intelligent, his stay at the DRU kennel was not smooth. Totally undisciplined and described as "wild," he was very difficult to keep. He barked incessantly in his crate and urinated uncontrollably when excited.

At wits end, those volunteers involved with Max made plans to move him, in hopes that he would improve in an environment where he got individual attention and more room to run. Natalie Cohen believed that he would benefit from a stay with Cass Stallings, who fosters many of DRU's toughest cases.

Cass picked Max up at Bulger Animal Hospital July 22, 1994. That transport was particularly memorable for Cass because Max greeted her by urinating on her leg to the thigh. Max proved to be a quick learner, however, and Cass described him as hands down the smartest dog that had ever walked through her door. He mastered the basic obedience part of his education in a week and was dearly looking for more.

It dawned on Natalie that Max was simply too smart to make a comfortable house pet. Happily, he was very good with children and other dogs, but he would get bored (and then in trouble) without real challenges and direction. This special dog needed a real job to satisfy his intellectual curiosity.

Natalie made it her mission to find a proper placement for Max as a working dog. Inquiries with search and rescue organizations led nowhere. State Police in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and Connecticut declined, feeling Dobermans weren't suitable for outdoor work in this climate. The Federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms trains dogs for arson, drug and customs work. They, however, were interested mainly in Labrador Retrievers.

New England Assistance Dogs was not in a position to take Max into their program, as they had no clients waiting specifically for a Doberman.

In September 1994, Natalie spoke to a Connecticut show judge, Kathy McKieman, who has helped with rescues in the past. On hearing about the difficulty Natalie was having finding a working position for "Little Max," Kathy suggested that she call Joanna Walker, the renowned Doberman breeder responsible for the Marks-Tey line of dogs. Ms. Walker has literally written the book on Dobermans, and for the past several years she has been involved with Pilot Dogs, Inc., a non-profit organization in Ohio that trains guide dogs for service with the blind (and they train blind clients in the satisfactory use of such dogs). Willing to give Max a try on our say so, Pilot Dogs accepted him into their program.

On September 30th, Cass took Max to Logan Airport for his flight to Columbus, Ohio. He distinguished himself immediately. On arrival, instead of being upset from the flight and overwhelmed by the new environment, Max made himself right at home, winning the hearts of the staff at Pilot Dogs. Stringent initial physical screening included X-rays, and a medical exam. Fortunately, Max was not a large dog, as Pilot Dogs has a height limit of 28".

Training starts right off, as a part of the screening process. The dogs' level of obedience training is considered, but that is not as important as their responses to a variety of conditions. They are exposed to heavy traffic both in front of and behind them. Noisy: schoolyards are visited and ambulances whiz past them deliberately. The trainers look at their reactions and recovery time.

Although Max was a great pupil, and finished the course in February 1995, it was June before a match could be made for him. Dobermans are placed only with someone experienced with the handling of a guide dog. He also needed someone with a sense of humor and an appreciation for Max's own special sense of fun. This person turned out to be Albert Dross, a foreclosure specialist working for a large New York bank, and living in the Bronx. Max would be his guide dog, and it was a great match. The new team completed 4 weeks of training together in Ohio, and then went back to Albert's life in the Bronx. Once there, Max fit right in, leading Mr. Dross through his busy day and even making trips with him. They went to the Dominican Republic and Hawaii, where he was able to "hang ten" on a Waikiki beach. A clown at heart, Max would march up to Albert or his roommate Steve, empty food bowl in mouth, letting them know that it was mealtime. Max, while taking his job very seriously, still made those who grew to love him laugh.

I never met Max, but I enjoyed researching his story (or legend), and like so many others, I felt proud of him as if a part of myself and my beloved rescue Dobe were invested in his success. From a puppy that was deemed to be so unmanageable that he could only be destroyed, he went on to become a valuable working dog and true DRU star. I was looking forward to my phone conversation last night with Albert Dross, expecting to get confirmation of all the Max lore and then hear how he's doing in his new home. "Mr. Dross," I said after introducing myself, "I hear you have one of our star pupils." Imagine my shock as he quietly said "Not anymore." Just a week earlier, as Max was being curbed outside his home, a speeding taxi struck him, severing his cervical spine. He had to be euthanized.

Albert Dross and his roommate cried as they described Max to me. He was a "rambunctious" and "high ego" dog, but very intelligent and gentle. If he did not trust an approaching stranger he would stop Albert with a nudge, and keep his head in Albert's hand until he felt the danger was past. A policeman casually swinging his nightstick in a New York subway station got a big surprise when Max made it his business to grab the stick in his mouth, stopping what he saw as a threatening motion.

Albert believes that Max was a very good judge of people, and the best guide dog he has ever had. The kids in his Bronx neighborhood loved Max and he spent many happy hours at leisure on the stoop of his building.

Albert Dross has gone back to his cane and misses Max terribly, yet he has told Pilot Dogs he would only take a Doberman and "one like Max." He asked me if DRU had any possible candidates, and he is presently participating in the search himself. But it doesn't look like there will be another dog like Max, that unmanageable puppy who got a chance in his short life to do his job so very well.

Steve B. with Max and Jane D. with Shelby

Here is a picture of Max, the male Doberman Pinscher that you were so kind to donate to our Pilot Dog program in October, 1997. I'm very pleased to say that Max has completed his guide dog training and has been placed with the gentleman shown here, Steve B. He and Max bonded immediately, and the two have made a great working team. We are very pleased with this placement and look forward to many good years for both of them.

Also shown here is Shelby, another one of your DRU Dobermans. Shelby has completed her guide training and has been placed with a young lady, Jane D. Shelby makes a lovely guide and we anticipate that these two will have many good years ahead of them.

I want to thank you again for thinking of us by donating Max and Shelby to our program of serving the blind. My best to everyone at Doberman Rescue.

J. Jay Gray
Executive Director
Pilot Dogs Inc.
Columbus, Ohio

John D. with Rhett

Rhett was a handsome red boy who was in two homes before he was turned into D.R.U. at eight months of age. Everything that was not nailed down and within his reach was his property or so he thought. He was fostered by Ruth Carpenter of Providence, Rhode Island, who kept him for four months before he was sent to Pilot. She put him through basic obedience during this time. This dog came from Georgia and was out of Winterwind breeding.

Rhett had many games he liked to play, including stealing Ruth's towel while she was taking a shower, forcing her to drip her way to get a new one. Or stealing her clothes so she had to run through the house naked to retrieve them before he ate them! After the first two months, she had to resort to getting dressed or undressed in her closet! He would also steal the water spray bottle that was the only correction he seemed to respect. He would hide this so she could not find it. And forget about talking on the phone, that was the perfect time to get into real mischief.

All this and yet today Rhett is faithfully leading his blind owner as a Pilot Dog. His puppy days are over, and he now has a real job to do.

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