Elroy, a beautiful 1-year-old black Labrador retriever, stands upright like a statue, glaring directly at a guest walking into Alan Rosenberg's office in Granada Hills, Calif.
Rosenberg may joke about needing protection after some of his stock recommendations, but Elroy is not a guard dog. Rather, he is a guide dog.
Rosenberg is legally blind. However, the Brecek & Young Advisors rep doesn't need a guide dog himself. He's training Elroy through Guide Dogs of America to serve another blind person.
Rosenberg decided to train a dog for the program after his 9½-year-old Rottweiler, Cora, died last year of cancer. “I wanted to do something for the community,” he says. “Since I've trained four dogs of my own, I felt this would be something great to do for someone who desperately depends on a guide dog every moment of their life.”
Rosenberg, who can function without a guide dog because he's equipped with built-in bioptic telescopic eyeglass lenses, underwent a serious interview process with Guide Dogs of America before he got Elroy in July 2000. Under the organization's guidelines, Rosenberg is to train Elroy for 18 months.
Then, the organization takes Elroy back and spends four months determining if he's qualified to be a guide dog. During that period, the blind individual paired with him lives at the organization's facility in Sylmar, Calif., and works with the dog.
Nearly half of potential guide dogs fail the testing process, according to Guide Dogs of America, which is very particular about selecting a dog to be a guide. It runs dogs through a series of intense drills to see how they react. For instance, in one particular exercise at the organization's monthly evaluation sessions, a head trainer walks through a group of 50 dogs and trainers with a cat. No reaction is the best reaction.
“They'll also fire off a gun to see how the dog reacts,” Rosenberg says. “They try to make the dog fail. They try to freak the dog out because the dog has to be 100% focused on his role as a guide.”
A guide dog in training can't be taught any tricks. He can't be thrown a ball or Frisbee. Imagine the trouble if he were walking through a park with a blind person and suddenly chased after a flying object. “A guide dog can't get distracted by anything,” Rosenberg says. “After all, they hold a blind person's life in their hands.”
Rosenberg takes Elroy everywhere, including restaurants, supermarkets and even casinos, where there's a lot of noise, bells, people and lights. “Plus, I get to play a little blackjack,” he says, with a laugh.
So what kind of chance does Elroy have at becoming a guide? “It's very possible,” Rosenberg says. “He's a wonderful, kind dog. But you can have a very good, obedient dog that still might have a characteristic that will not allow him to succeed. So we'll see.”
If Elroy fails to become a guide dog, Rosenberg has first crack at keeping him. “I'd love to keep him, but I'm not training him for that purpose. I'm training him so he can make a difference in someone else's life.”