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'Pick of the Litter' show gives viewers insight into lives of guide dogs, owners

COURTESY PHOTO - Pick of the Litter follows the lives of six puppies who will be trained to guide the visually impaired. It's not uncommon to see guide dogs leading folks around town, but do you know the amount of training it takes to get a dog to guide?

Guide Dogs for the Blind, based in California and with a campus in Boring, hopes to spread awareness about blindness, guide dogs and the process of training a dog to guide through a new documentary series on Disney+.

The show on the new streaming service, called "Pick of the Litter," aired Dec. 20 and comprises six episodes. Through the show the viewers get to follow the lives of six puppies with the potential to grow up to be guide dogs.

Disney and Guide Dogs partnered after Robert Iger, CEO of Disney, saw a documentary of the same name produced by the nonprofit organization a few years ago. On the hunt for new original content for Disney's new streaming service, Iger saw a remake of the documentary as a potential hit.

When Chris Benninger, CEO of Guide Dogs, and the organization were making the original "Pick of the Litter" documentary, they were hesitant to let people in to tell their story. There are several misperceptions about blind and low-vision people and guide dogs as well, so they wanted to make sure the video would have a positive and educational effect.

"We were opening up the organization to allow someone else to tell our story," Benninger said. "We felt we could trust them based on the work they'd already done. In the end I think they did a really good job of representing the mission of Guide Dogs. I think Disney has done the same with this series."

Though the series doesn't show the entire progression of the dogs maturing and training — it takes 18 months to train and they only had seven months to film — Benninger noted she thinks the piece will be great for increasing awareness around blindness.

"I think most people have no clear understanding of what it takes to create a guide dog," Benninger said. "It takes a significant number of people to get a dog to guide."

COURTESY PHOTO - Pick of the Litter aired on the Disney+ streaming service on Dec. 20, 2019. From the time a dog is born, puppies bred to be companions for the visually impaired work with several sets of volunteers. Their first year is spent with a "puppy raiser family," learning basic skills. They then return to the Boring Guide Dog campus for more intensive training, where they are taught the individual needs for the person whose eyes they will become. In total, more than 50 people are involved in each dog's life.

Since "Pick of the Litter" series hit Disney+, 83,000 people have already liked the show on Facebook and the show has been rated as one of the top original content pieces on the streaming service.

"Watching the series is a fun way to learn more about the organization and the impact the organization makes on the world," Benninger said. "I think people don't have a full understanding of blindness and how powerful having a guide dog is. You have to learn to relinquish trust and control to a dog to be able to work seamlessly as a team. I think that story is an important one. I think what's really great about this series is: it's good about representing what our clients go through to learn to use a guide dog."

"Pick of the Litter" is now available to stream with a Disney+ subscription and was filmed at the California campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization, which offers services free of charge to those living with vision impairment.


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