Most Sea Tow captains don’t have to be taught to sit, stay or lay down; but, then again, most aren’t as cute as Win (no offense, captains).
While she might not spend her days out patrolling the waters, giving jump starts and delivering fuel to stranded boats, that doesn’t mean Win isn’t capable of providing the top-notch level of service our captains have come to be known for.
Win is a service dog living in Tampa, Florida with Debbie Hietala, who is legally blind. Like most guide dogs, Win spends her days helping her owner get around town as she runs errands, meets with friends and family and goes to work. Unlike most, Win started her early life perusing the halls at Sea Tow headquarters in Southold, New York.
Win was first adopted by Sea Tow International team member Capt. Ed Flynn a little over two years ago when Ed volunteered for the Guide Dog Foundation. Ed brought Win home when she was just nine weeks old to start her training. For the next 14 months, she spent every day beside him at home and at the Sea Tow offices, learning her manners and basic commands.
At 19 months, she was ready to begin her life of service. For the next three months, Win spent her days at guide dog school, learning the ins and outs of her training – things like guiding someone’s hand to a door handle or making decisions on how to best navigate around an obstacle.
This past October, Win traveled all the way down to Florida with her trainer to meet Debbie for the first time. While it took a little time for Debbie to get to know her new guide dog, she said she knew right off the bat that Win would make the perfect guide, companion and friend.
Win helps Debbie in all sorts of ways, from alerting her to an upcoming curb or stairs to directing her fingers to the buttons on an elevator. She’s diligent in her service duties, but Debbie said as soon as they step in the door, Win is back to being an adorable, fun-loving pup.
“As soon as I hit the front door, I take the harness and leash off and she’s just a dog,” she added. “I have another pet, and they immediately run outside and run around and play. But she knows that as soon as I grab my purse and backpack that we’re going out and she’s back on duty.”
This was a lesson Win learned while at the offices in Long Island. While she wasn’t a guide dog yet, Ed made sure she knew that her vest – which she wore each day to Sea Tow – meant she was ready to work. However, when the vest and harness came off on “Win Wednesdays” she knew it was time to play – making the rounds getting belly rubs and treats from everyone around the office.
The 56-pound lab with brindle markings has exemplified everything we hold dear here at Sea Tow – unrelenting service with a friendly face.
As luck would have it, Sea Tow’s annual meeting took place in Tampa last year, just a few miles from Debbie’s house. In a special meeting, Win got to see all her old friends from Long Island while they were there, and the Sea Tow team go to meet Debbie. You can see the joy felt by both Win and the Sea Tow team in the picture above of Win and Sea Tow’s Customer Care Center manager, Alicia Daly.
“It was great letting her see everyone from Sea Tow again,” Debbie said. “That was a special moment for both of us.”