Guide dog gives KCATA chief executive freedom

Date:September 10, 2017
Guide dog gives KCATA chief executive freedom

Dogs are affectionate in so many ways.

They jump on you and lick you when you get home from work. They play ball in the yard. They’re companions on walks in the neighborhood. And they’re great snugglers.

But for Robbie Makinen, chief executive of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, a dog is all that and so much more.

Robbie’s dog, Loki, opens the world to him. Blind since 2013, Robbie decided this year to get a service dog that would give him the independence to move around more easily.

 “Loki allows me freedom,” Robbie said. “That freedom is the ability to get out of my house at night and walk around my neighborhood. It seems like nothing, but it’s a big deal.”

Robbie, who lost his sight when the blood flow to the optic nerves shut off, had been reluctant to get either a cane or a service dog. Eventually, he relented.

“I felt like I was starting to be a burden on my family, on my friends and my co-workers.” If Loki could help Robbie be more independent, then he thought, “Let’s do it.”

Robbie Makinen, the KCATA's president and chief executive
officer, walks with Loki outside the the Authority's
administrative building.

Trained by retired Army Rangers, Loki is as much friend as service dog.

Named after the crafty, trickster god of Norse mythology, Loki just turned 2 in July. Loki may be playful and carefree at home with Robbie’s kids, but at the KCATA he’s on the job.

While Loki looks majestic and graceful, no one should ever pet him or touch him if they see him as he guides Robbie. It’s critical never to interact with working service dogs because it could distract them from their primary job of looking after their owner.

“People come up and want to pet your dog. You don’t want to be rude, but the dog is working,” Robbie said. “You don’t want to confuse him. When he’s working, he’s working.”

Robbie spent two to three months training with the dog. He learned how to relate to Loki, understanding the many different ways the dog communicates to him.

Robbie plugged into the nuances of how the dog’s movement would talk to him, telling him about an approaching curb or other obstacles that might impede his movement.

“It took more training on my part than the dog’s,” Robbie said.

Training wasn’t always easy. When Loki came to the city for the first time, it was different. “Loki had never seen a bus barn and not many tall buildings,” Robbie said.

So it was back for more training until Loki and Robbie were a match for each other.

“They had to make sure he was the right fit for me,” Robbie said. “If they didn’t think he was the right fit for me they wouldn’t have let him go.”

At home, Loki is more pet than service animal, Robbie said. Remove his harness with the RideKC logo and Loki roughhouses and jostles with his two sons just like any other dog. “They absolutely adore him,” Robbie said of his sons’ devotion to the newest family member.

At work, Loki is always at Robbie’s side. He lies next to him in his office in the Breen Building. He accompanies him to City Hall. He’s with him when he dines out.

Sometimes – much to Robbie’s chagrin – Loki grabs all the love.

“He’s always the center of attention. People think he’s beautiful,” Robbie said. “He gets the royal treatment wherever he goes.”