OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Dozens of dogs made their way through Oakland International Airport on Saturday morning as they trained to become service animals that provide an invaluable service to the blind and visually impaired.

The dogs and their temporary owners met at the airport to help get the pups ready to navigate the world alongside their blind companions. They went through the security checkpoint and even boarded the plane as practice.

The dogs go through a year and a half of training, according to Christine Benninger, CEO of Guide Dogs For The Blind. She said that training time stands in stark contrast to the poorly defined and poorly regulated case of so-called “comfort animals.”

“These animals are putting true service animals at risk. So, we’ve had a number of our own dogs that have been attacked by either a comfort animal or a fake service dog,” said Benninger.

Michelle Carson has been paired with her guide dog Rhiannon for nearly five years. It’s a relationship that has brought light to a world that had grown dark as she gradually lost her eyesight.

“I would run into things. I wouldn’t always be able to go places because of feeling safe,” said Carson. “She gives me security. She finds the door for me whereas I had trouble finding the door. She’s going to get me around obstacles.”

“They can go wherever they want because of this dog. And to know that I had a very small part in raising this pup up to do that is just amazing,” said Lora Harrison, one of the guide dog trainers.

All of the dogs trained are somewhere between being a puppy of a couple months old and 15 months. At that point, they are handed off to another set of trainers who complete their training.

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