Guide Dogs In Training at the Opera

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A woman in a black coat and red scarf stands in front of an evergreen tree holding a golden-furred puppy.
Assistant Director Jordan Lee Baun and her guide dog in training, Franklin.

By: Angelica DiIorio

In historic buildings, it is easy to wonder who could have occupied the same seat as you. The Ellie Caulkins Opera House has tens of thousands of incredible patrons who attend the opera, the ballet, and many other events each year. But would you ever guess your seat was once taken by a puppy?

A group of people stand in a line, each holding a guide dog in training on a lease wearing a green bandana.
A group from Guide Dogs for the Blind in the lobby at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Guide Dogs In-Training at the Ellie

A women pets her golden-furred guide dog in training as they both sit in a row of red theatre seats.
Puppy in the Parterre during a rehearsal of Carmen.

In May 2022, twenty guide-dog-in-training puppies, accompanied by their coaches from the Denver branch of Guide Dogs for the Blind, were invited to attend a rehearsal of Carmen at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. These dogs are learning how to guide a person through daily tasks like going to the store, taking public transit, and even attending the theater. To help with their training, this group of puppies practiced guiding their coaches into a theatre and remaining quiet throughout the performance. They navigated the lobby of the Ellie, sat in the seats of the theatre, and enjoyed some operatic melodies.

Carmen Crew Welcomes Franklin

Closeup of a woman with short black hair and bangs holding her golden-furred puppy close to her face.
Jordan Lee Baun first meeting with her puppy Franklin.

This adorable journey started when the Assistant Director for Carmen, Jordan Lee Braun, asked if she could bring her own service puppy in training to rehearsals. Jordan has been training dogs with Leader Dogs For the Blind in Rochester, Michigan, since she was a teenager. As part of a school project, Jordan fundraised for Leader Dogs by having peers donate extra lunch money—helping to provide guide dogs for those who could not afford one. What started as an independent study project in high school has led to raising multiple puppies, most recently Franklin, who Jordan got in November when he was only six months old. Since it is part of his training to socialize and navigate obstacles, he goes with Jordan everywhere and was even approved to attend Carmen rehearsals. Franklin is one cultured puppy! 

Volunteers like Jordan give the puppies a wide range of experiences, preparing them for the needs of their next owner. Jordan explains, “The dogs might not learn identical skills to what their future owner might need, but they are transferable. I definitely teach him [Franklin] not to react to loud noises; he now has lots of practice with opera and people singing at him. He has to sit under a table while I work, so he will also be prepared to help someone who has an office job.”

A Perfect Paw-portunity for Service Dogs In-Training

A woman holds a corgi dog in her lap while sitting on a couch. The woman has a mustard-colored shirt that reads “My dog is my sweet potato,” and the dog has an orange shirt that reads, “Yes I yam.”¬¬
Opera Colorado Patron Services Manager, Vee Butler, and her corgi Potato.

When Opera Colorado’s Patron Services Manager, Vee Butler, saw a picture of Franklin, she asked the game-changing question: “Why can’t we invite more dogs?” As part of Opera Colorado’s efforts to better serve our community, Vee reached out to Guide Dogs for the Blind—serendipitously, the contact for the organization is named Carmen! Vee’s collaboration with Carmen resulted in a mutually beneficial opportunity. These service dogs in training had a chance to practice skills they will need in the future, and Opera Colorado was able to actively participate in our mission

We thank Jordan and the other volunteers with Guide Dogs for the Blind for the incredible work they are doing by training these dogs. Thank you to Vee, who made it possible for Opera Colorado to add these furry friends to our patron list.

At Opera Colorado, we believe all should have access to this incredible art form, and these puppies play an important role in guiding those with difficulty seeing during performances. Opera Colorado also provides braille programs and an audio-descriptive performance for each production for those who need them. But, we know we don’t have all the answers.

If you or someone you love would like to attend the opera and we are not meeting your needs, please reach out to our Patrons Services Team at customerservice@operacolorado.org or 303.468.2030, so we can learn and do better!

Brown-furred guide dog in training, wearing a green bandana saying, “Guide Dogs for the Blind,” stands on the lobby floor.
Puppy from Guide Dogs for the Blind in the lobby of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Learn more about our accessibility services>>

It was an honor to have these puppies and their trainers with us for a Carmen rehearsal!

Come see Carmen for yourself, on stage at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House May 7-21>>

 

This group brought their furry friends to see Carmen. Who would you take with you?

 

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