Meet CoCo Chanel: a dog born to guide

By Adina Young 08/19/2020
Coco, the Guide Dog

It’s not every day you get to interview (wo)man’s best friend, let alone a service dog. I had the honor of having a Q&A session with CoCo Chanel, a Labrador Retriever who guides her human mommy, a SourceAmerica® employee.

Let’s learn more about CoCo:

Hi CoCo. Where are you from? 
I was born at The Seeing Eye® in Morristown, New Jersey. I spent the first 15 months of my life with my puppy-raiser family in Pennsylvania. They began the process of acclimating me to different social settings like stores, airports, restaurants, vacation spots, etc. Then I returned to the guide school in Morristown for several months of official, rigorous guide training. After I passed all the tests and earned my credentials, I was finally matched with my human mommy. My mommy and I lived at the Seeing Eye for a month, where we trained together. We then went to what is now my forever home in Virginia.
What makes you a service animal and how are you identified as a service animal?  
I am trained to guide visually impaired and blind individuals. Because of my special and extraordinary skills, I can help my mommy continue to participate, be an involved member of our society, and travel independently. Because I am so well-behaved, I get to go basically everywhere I want with my mommy, and we get to do mostly everything together.
Who do you support and how?
My mom is an employee at SourceAmerica. On top of guiding her, I provide a lot of companionship and love. I always want to be with her. She spoils me and I make her laugh. Our bond is unbreakable. She calls me her lifeline because she says I am superb at keeping her safe. She trusts me to be her eyes.
How long have you been providing this/these service(s)?   
I have been working with my mom since March 2019. I was bred to be a guide dog, so I have been doing this all my life, and I will be 4 years old in October.
What’s your favorite thing to do with your human mommy? Why? 
I love to play tug-of-war. I have super tough toys with which we play. I have a lot of strength and so is my mommy. Most people don’t realize how strong I am. My mommy always warns people that I am her “Supergirl.” I will charge through a crowd, but I was trained to lead!
Is there anything you hate to do with your human mommy? Why?   
I hate wearing shoes and getting my paws cleaned. When I’m in my shoes, I prance around and try to remove them. My mommy says I look like her little Clydesdale horse. It is a battle of wills getting me in my shoes. As mommy puts one on, I am trying to take it off. I know they protect my paws, but I don’t like them.
What’s your favorite trick to do?   
I don’t really have tricks. I love to play peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek. I am very expressive and have my own personality. Sometimes, when I’m around the office, other staff members comment that they know I am in work mode because my brows are furrowed, and my face shows I am concentrating. I am often smiling. When people enter mommy’s office, I come out from under the desk to greet them. I usually have my leash in my mouth and try to hand it to them so they can take me on a walk. My mommy calls me her little runaway.
If you could tell humans who aren’t YOUR human one thing about service animals, what would it be? 
Don’t be scared of me or my partner guide dogs. We are friendly. Though my bark booms, I am a teddy bear inside. When I am working, please don’t talk to me or touch me. I have a very serious job which is to keep my mommy safe; to do this I need to concentrate. It is ok to ignore me, and when I am in my harness, I will try to ignore you because I am in work mode. I am a dog and do doggy things like bark and get easily distracted. A lot of times, people like to project their human expectations on me, but remember, though I am super fantastic at what I do, at the end of the day, I am still just a cuddly, cute canine companion.
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