Guide dogs enjoy new outdoor space built just for them

 In News & Events

Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 07/26/2007

Ann Nicholson and HeavenThree tail-wagging Labrador retrievers sniffed the grass, gravel and shrubs in a new doggie park specially designed for guide dogs that need a place to do what dogs gotta do. Elaine, Heaven and Dylan are guide dogs for employees at the Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh. Yesterday, they were the first dogs to use the park, which was designed and built last week by six United Way Day of Caring volunteers.

Three yellow and four black Labs regularly accompany their owners to work at Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services, 1800 West St., Homestead. Some of the clients who get training and services at the center also have guide dogs and bring them to the facility. Guide dogs used to have to take their breaks in a hilly patch of grass by the front entrance of the building. But navigating that terrain was especially difficult for some of the vision-impaired dog owners who also have balance problems.

Employees at Eaton Electrical Inc., headquartered in Moon, wanted to do a United Way project for the agency that serves blind and vision-impaired people. Jennifer Ploskina, Eaton’s Day of Caring coordinator, met with agency employees and settled on a dog park.

“I asked them to level off a patch of grass and this is what they came up with,” said Carole Nadzam, administrative assistant and United Way campaign manager at the vision center. Volunteers leveled the hill and provided grass and gravel “to give the dogs a choice. Dogs tend to have their preferences,” Ms. Nadzam said.

Volunteers also built a stone retaining wall and planted shrubs. Those touches were added when Ms. Ploskina enlisted the help of her father, Pete Blackwood, a landscape architect. Also, Alan Dambach of Lake Forest Gardens in Fombell donated landscaping materials. Dave Frisch, maintenance supervisor at the vision center, donated his efforts as well, coming in to work on a day off.

Guide dog owners are to clean up after their dogs and deposit droppings in a garbage can that has a sign reading: “This Can Is My Business.”

The dogs enjoyed checking out their new park.

Dylan, an 8-year-old yellow Lab who partners with Louise Chuha of Braddock, who is a communications instructor at the agency, also enjoyed eyeing-up the bone-shaped sugar cookies that surrounded the punch bowl put out for the dedication party. Dylan wasn’t allowed to eat those, but he and the other dogs were given party bowls filled with healthy dog snacks.

Heaven, 6, a yellow Lab, works with Ann Nicholson of Mt. Lebanon, who teaches cooking. Heaven, who sits under the counter while her owner works there, learned a skill not taught at the Guiding Eyes training facility.

“She will pick up items that have dropped on the floor and bring them to me,” Ms. Nicholson said.

Elaine, 2, a black Lab, works with Heidi Pierce of Liberty, who teaches household arts.

“Elaine is my first guide dog. She gives me more independence than I have ever had,” Ms. Pierce said.

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at or 412-263-3064.

About the photo: Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette Ann Nicholson, of Mt. Lebanon, gets a paw shake from her guide dog, Heaven, during the dedication of the new doggie park at the Blind & Vision Rehab-ilitation Services of Pittsburgh office in Homestead yesterday.