Lando, a four-legged smile generator

In the clogged and frenetic heart of Midtown Manhattan, squeezed between the north end of Times Square and Central Park, lives a magical creature with an irresistible power to bring a smile to the faces of everyone who sees him.   I have the profound privilege of being his caretaker for several months each year and feel compelled to share this experience with those who have not witnessed it firsthand.

Lando (also known as Landall and Londolozi) started life as a Companion Dog in Training (CDIT) with Canine Companions for Independence (  He spent the first 18 months of puppyhood learning the basic skills of a companion dog while navigating the hectic routine of my NYC lifestyle (subways, office buildings, grocery stores, bars, etc) as a volunteer puppyraiser.  
He then spent 6 months in intensive training, honing the exceptional discipline and attentiveness to human signals that make service dogs so invaluable.  Ultimately, he was not matched up with a long-term human partner, and I was offered the opportunity to adopt him.  He was just over 2 years old.

While there was no hesitation about adopting him, I had some serious considerations about his new lifestyle.  As a service dog in training, he was legally allowed to go everywhere in NYC – cabs, subways, stores, restaurants, office buildings, etc – so he was with me around the clock.   Having lost that status, he would now be subjected to the limitations that make raising a dog in Manhattan such a challenge – principally long periods of time spent inside, by himself.

Fortunately for me, Lando is a truly exceptional being that not only grasped the new circumstances, but eagerly developed new skills and almost seamlessly fell into a new routine.  Among the more amusing skills is his ability to hit the elevator button in the lobby to carry him up to our home on the 13th floor.  Far and away the most practical skill however, is his street navigation, and it is this ability that evokes wonder and brings joy to hundreds, if not thousands of tourists in the neighborhood on a daily basis.  People marvel that he can carry his own leash and walk himself .

Lando has developed a keen sense of awareness of sidewalks, curbs, and streets, and knows to stop and wait when he approaches each intersection.  He also understands the unique NYC nuance of following the walk signs in a diagonal pattern to get from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible with the fewest stops.  He carries his leash in his mouth and walks ahead 5-10 paces, always alert to avoid tripping pedestrians and (undoubtedly resulting from his CCI training) especially deferential to wheelchairs, canes and other indications of a person with a disability.   Every few feet, he glances back over his shoulder to maintain eye contact with me and look for clues as to upcoming changes in direction.

It’s takes little more than a subtle tilt of the head in one direction to indicate a turn, and a gentle stop movement with my hand will halt him.  If there is an urgent need to get his attention, a click (reminiscent of Xhosa) or whistle brings him back to my side.  Naturally this mutual trust has developed over time, and I have had to learn the lessons of ‘letting go of fear’ in order for both of us to enjoy the freedoms and magic that have resulted.

This mutual trust means that he can wait outside of stores, coffee shops, deli’s, etc while I complete various errands, without needing to be tied down.  He patiently waits – sitting or lying down when he wants – and generally ignores the surrounding crowds.  Even dogs that walk by won’t pull him from his spot. Passers-by can rarely resist him, and I often times come out to find a small crowd gathered around him.  Although he patiently allows himself to be pet, photographed, and fawned over, he immediately makes eye contact with me when I emerge and tunes in for instructions.  Invariably, people express sheer awe that a dog can be left sitting alone outside.  I just tell them that there is just an innate, mutual trust, and although I don’t know what goes on inside his brain, I can only imagine that he senses that love, trust, support and/or protection at some level, and reciprocates it.

The most dramatic effect usually comes as unsuspecting pedestrians are walking towards us.  They first encounter Lando, leash in mouth, walking determinedly towards the park.   As they are trying to figure out who he is walking with, he turns his head to check in, and they are comforted that he is not lost.  Then they are struck by his independence, his discipline, and the immense trust that exists for him to be able to do this.  Many people stop me to ask how I trained him to do that, and honestly, it was just a process of letting go of fear, and building up trust that he was smart enough to recognize danger (curbs, cars, etc) and would respond to my recall command (which he invariably does).   In some ways, I feel like he has taught me a new trick – faith.

You can see more pictures here


5 Responses to “Lando, a four-legged smile generator”

  1. 1 Birju June 5, 2010 at 22:23

    I love Lando!

  2. 3 pcthrpy June 7, 2010 at 08:32

    so if Lando is walking with his leash in his own mouth is he technically still “On leash.” I mean he is wearing a leash, it’s just not technically attached to a human at the other end. He sounds amazing and you both lucky to have one another. Rumble Lando!

    • 4 Philip Kiracofe June 9, 2010 at 09:05

      In the early days, I would take the leash back whenever I saw police out of concern for exactly that kind of *literal* interpretation. Now, I have come to appreciate that cops are some of his biggest fans, and will often pet him as he prances by 😉 Here is funny picture from my neighborhood

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"beyond the fear of failure is the courage to explore new realms and expand your horizens - know no fear"

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