Team of 3 guide dogs to lead blind runner at United Airlines NYC Half

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Guide dogs are familiar companions for humans who need them, and now, a team of running guide dogs is about to break another barrier.

Thanks to permission from New York Road Runners, a relay of three dogs are on course to do something that's never been done before -- cross the finish line and collect a medal for guiding a blind runner 13.1 miles.

Tom Panek has used human guides to run races in the past, and we first met him in 2014 when he ran the Boston Marathon to raise money for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The non-profit offers guide dogs to those in need.

Guiding Eyes now has its own running team, and guide dog Gus joined Panek and Eyewitness News meteorologist Amy Freeze for a recent run.

"These are their running shoes," Panek said. "The socks to keep them from getting blisters...They have their own running gear just like we do."

And these pups are going the distance to lead humans who cannot see but want to run.

"There's a big demand from people who have vision loss that want to be active, want to be well like the rest of us, want to get out there with their dog," Panek said.

Gus is joined on the team by Waffle and her brother Westly, and for the first time ever, the relay of three guide dogs will each run about five miles and take Panek to the finsish line of the 2019 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon.

"The biggest obstacle is getting it done at a faster pace, moving with the dog and keeping our footwork together," Panek said. "Like everybody else, one step at a time."

While other runners have their sight to navigate curbs, potholes and other runners, Panek has the dog.

"It's a long race, but dogs are running creatures and they love to move and run," he said. "A lot of times, when we're walking our dogs, we are holding them back. They want to get out and have fun, and they love it...keeping me on course and getting me across the finish line."

Raised by volunteers and trained to run this distance, these dogs are about to become part of history.

"These dogs will have on their names on own bibs," Panek said. "And they'll medal at the end, so cheer these dogs on."

After all, they represent animals that serve humans in ways that make everything seem possible.

"No matter what your challenge or disability is, you can do it," Panek said. "You can do it, one step at a time."

----------
* More New York City news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.