The 4-month-old was calm through airport security, staying quiet even as TSA agents patted her down.
She held up the line for a second, though, when she stopped to gobble up a red Life Saver someone dropped on the floor.
She is, after all, a puppy.
“That’s just what they do,” chuckled her handler, Lynn Schense of Papillion.
But the dog, a black Labrador retriever named Key, is different from her canine counterparts. She’s training to become a certified assistance dog recognized by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Two years from now Key will be living with someone who is blind or disabled, helping that person get from place to place and lead as normal a life as possible.
Service dogs learn basic obedience — sit, stay, come — but also skills specific to their job: how to pull a wheelchair, retrieve medication, open a door, turn on the light.
Service animals are allowed under federal law to accompany their owners in all public areas, including stores, restaurants and airplanes, and should be comfortable in those environments.
“As soon as they are born we get them used to being around all different kinds of people and places,” said Schense, a volunteer for KSDS Inc., a nonprofit organization out of Washington, Kansas, that trains Labradors to become service or guide dogs. “You take them shopping with you, to restaurants, to church. All the routine stuff, so they know how to behave.”
Key and another puppy-in-training, Milo, were taken to Eppley Airfield recently as part of their education. There are few busy public places with more distractions than an airport. There’s security, escalators, food court, luggage, other people milling about. Navigating the airport is a step above day-to-day service dog training, and helps their handlers determine if the animals are cut out to be assistance dogs. Plus, there is a chance the dogs will have to fly when taken to their permanent owner’s home state.