Quarryville, PA. While internet behemoth Google is researching robotic Self Driving Cars, Esty’s Seeing Eye Dogs, a local professional guide dog training organization based in Hershey, PA, are claiming that they have produced a new guide dog capable of driving cars.
The dogs, usually Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, or Australian Cattle Dogs, undergo an intense six month training process that equips them with the reactionary skills, such as stopping at red lights and obeying speed limits, needed to make commuting for the physically handicapped or lazy inept simple and effective.
Critics of the program argue that the responsibility of operating a car should not be left to a trained animal but Tasha Esty, the CEO of Esty’s Seeing Eye Dogs, says that every dog must pass a PA drivers license test before being released for service. “In many cases the dogs are better drivers than your standard New Jersey (related: PA Bans New Jersey Drivers) commuter. In fact, guide dogs don’t have issues with road rage, making them safer than even human drivers,” Esty claims. Dogs also can’t use phones or text while they drive since they don’t have opposable thumbs.
They do, however, seem susceptible to other distractions. Videos of alleged guide dogs careening their cars through fields chasing after birds and cattle have been trending on social media. Dogs also tend to follow flashing lights, like those on ambulances and cop cars, and can complicate emergency situations when they arrive at the scene of the accident and try to herd or retrieve emergency vehicles.
Cindy Bitz personally witnessed a guide dog driving his owner through the woods after a squirrel. “I looked out my the back window in my house and saw a Prius drive through my fence, across the creek, and into the woods. I ran after it thinking that the driver was in trouble.” She was surprised to find a dog driving and said that the blind owner wasn’t even aware that his dog was driving through a forest. “He lived in Reading,” Bitz said, “He thought all the back breaking bouncing was just potholes.”
Despite the setbacks, the pilot program seems to be going well and is drawing an increased interest with local residents. The Amish community say that a guide dog driving a rented vehicle would make motorised transportation fit into their traditional belief of not personally operating automobiles which they consider ‘worldly.’ The guide dogs could transform the taxi business as well. Thomas Kurtz, the dispatcher for Kurtz Transportation, suggests that Amish who couldn’t afford to buy their own driving guide dog could rent the dog and a large van for a day. “We wouldn’t have to pay a dog an hourly wage and we could pass these savings on to our customers,” he says.
Esty says the dog is an important part of the process but not just because they steer the vehicle. Their personality also comes into play. “We tried to use rescued dogs but found that they have a vendetta against humanity and intentionally try to ram drivers who cut them off.” Instead Esty has turned to the Amish community who have supplied a large majority of the dogs used in the pilot guide dog driving program. “We offered a few bucks in the local paper for any Lab dog and we were soon flooded with crates of puppies.”
Many people prefer guide dogs to robots since the dog takes on the personality of the individual that adopts it. Proponents of the driving guide dog program say that the dog begins to adapt to the driving preferences of the owner and makes it a more enjoyable chauffeur than a cold, calculated robotic driving car like Google is pushing. “Elderly people don’t like computers controlling their lives and young people don’t like that the computerized cars drive the speed limit,” says Esty. “The dogs can drive slow or recklessly, however the owner prefers.”
Many people tend to not get as mad at a cute Golden Retriever dog driving with his head out the window; his tongue flopping in the 90 mph wind, even if the dog cuts them off and makes them spin off the road. Esty thinks the driving guide dogs are the answer. “Road rage will decrease dramatically. This will change the way people commute.”