Forward Through the City: Miguel Zapata and “Iron”

Fidelco client Miguel Zapata lives in the center of Chicago with all of the commotion of a busy metropolitan area. Since he travels daily, Miguel requires a calm and confident guide dog partner. Knowing this, Fidelco trainers matched him with “Iron,” who has adapted smoothly to Chicago life, remaining focused through all of the sights, sounds, and distractions.

Miguel sitting and smiling while looking at camera with "Iron," a sable GSD, sitting to the right.

“Iron is an unflappable traveler,” Miguel says. “Whether it’s a jetliner overhead, the rumble of a passing freight train, or a semi-truck powering down the avenue, Iron always keeps his cool and stays focused on his guide work.”

Miguel lives with his wife and three sons. Daily life includes walking, riding the bus or train, and traveling by car, whether to downtown business district or other destinations for personal, work, and family needs.

Miguel chose to apply to Fidelco in part because, “German Shepherd Dogs are my favorite breed, and Fidelco trains only German Shepherds.” Another deciding factor was Fidelco’s In-Community placement model which provides personalized training of new guide dog teams in clients’ communities. “Fidelco does in-home training, which is a big deal for me because of my commitments,” Miguel said.

In January 2023, Fidelco placement specialist Chris Eastwood brought Iron to Chicago for the two-week training process. The team learned quickly together, exploring locations Miguel travels to on a daily basis. “Chris was friendly, professional, and knowledgable,” Miguel says. “He showed me how to care for Iron and how we, as a team, can safely navigate the city.”

Miguel sitting on city bus with Iron at his feet.
Miguel and “Iron” riding the city bus.

“Travel before having a guide dog was somewhat limited in distance and time of day,” Miguel shares. “After being teamed up with Iron, my travel and independence have increased substantially. Traveling in the dark is no longer an issue. My activity and productivity levels have clearly increased because of the longer distances we’re able to travel.”

Miguel standing with Iron with Chicago sign in back.

Miguel values Iron’s calm demeanor around crowds and children. “My youngest son has safety patrol duty before and after school. Iron and I volunteer to help out. Little kids will run and scream and cross Iron’s path, but Iron is so well behaved and gentle that he always yields to the children.”

“One day while traveling, we encountered a class of preschoolers marching single file on the sidewalk. At first, I was reluctant to walk with Iron next to the kids. But then I gave him to ‘forward’ command. As we walked past, the kids were pointing and ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing.’ ‘Look at the wolf,’ some of them said and started howling like a little pack of wolves. I smiled. Iron raised his head. It made my day.”

After being teamed up with Iron, my travel and independence have increased substantially.

Iron’s temperament and training prepared him to be the right guide dog for Miguel and his lifestyle, whether out in the city or at home. “Iron is obedient and calm and has never chewed on anything, not even as much as a shoe. For this I am grateful to his dedicated Puppy Raisers who make Iron so darn easy to love.”

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