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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Helping Paws~ The Recipients~

Eddie  7 weeks old
The Veterans 

            As I turned the street’s corner, I saw a man and women walking two  beautiful Golden Retriever puppies near the tree shaded building.  I parked my car on the road’s side, grabbed my camera case and car keys, and exited the car.

            Immediately I took the camera from its cradle inside the case, put it to my eye, and started shooting pictures. I then took out the mini video camera from my back pocket in order to capture all the movement as well. After all, this is what I came to see!

            A few more dogs and handlers arrived and made their way into the building, the building where the Helping Paws Organization does their training. I shut the camera down and followed them inside. Standing inside a huge open room was a tall young woman with long curly black hair. She was dressed in Capri’s, flip flops, and a sleeveless blouse to combat the summer’s heat.

            “Jo?” I asked.
            “Yes.” She replied.
            “Hi, I’m Sally.” I said. “I’ve been the one emailing you about coming to see how this process works.”  
            “Oh, Yes!” Jo replied. “Glad you could make it.”
            “Thank you.” I said. “I have been very interested since I saw the news clip.”

            The news clip had been about the organization needing volunteer puppy trainers to help with their next litter of pups. What is a volunteer puppy Trainer?  They are people that Helping Paws uses to raise and train their service dogs for the first two and a half years of the dog’s life, under the guidance of their professional instructors.

            As Jo and I spoke, more dogs and handlers arrived and each went to a different place in the room.  I glanced around and noticed the different items used to train the dogs. There was medical equipment, different types of doors with pull handles, a handicapped door button that one would see in public buildings, a working light switch, a sliding glass door, and stands for the dogs to jump up on. Each person was working their dog on a piece of this equipment. I saw one man working his dog to open the sliding glass door and a woman having her dog turn a small light switch on and off, as the light bulb blinked in conjunction with every movement of the dog’s nose. Another was working her dog to pull a regular house door open, and yet another lady was working her dog to get up and down off of the stand. There was so much to watch, that I was not sure where to look first!

            “As you can see,” Jo said, “each dog is working on a different skill set. They will make their way around the room to practice on each piece of equipment.”
            “Wow!” I said. “I am not sure what I expected, but this is very impressive!”
            After about fifteen minutes Jo addressed the group. “It’s so nice outside, why don’t we go out and play a game with the dogs?”

            She then grabbed a couple of tubs with various objects in them, brought them outside and emptied them onto the ground. She had the trainer’s trade dogs and form teams. Each team of dog's and handler's had to select one item on the ground and use a command to have the dog pick it up, and then drop it back into the tub. Whichever team filled the tub first, won.  The dogs were at various stages of learning, so some got it right away and some needed a bit more practice. But all gave it a valiant effort!

            Once the game was finished, Jo had had everyone go inside and grab a wheelchair and once again all headed to the beautiful weather outside. I observed dogs walking at the side of the trainer’s wheelchair, dogs that were instructed to wait at a door, dogs that were instructed to push the automatic door button, and dogs that were instructed to hop over the trainer’s legs to get in the right position to push the automatic button, then hop back into a left heel position to the wheelchair.

            This is something I want to learn more about! I thought. I really appreciated Jo allowing me to come down and see what ‘puppy raising’ was all about.

            Months went by and life got busy for me. Peter and I had just adopted a young Newfoundland rescue, who we named Skylar.  Skylar was the third large dog to occupy our already crowded space in this small home. She also needed a lot of training, but settled in nicely with our other two dogs, Brody, a Newfoundland/Golden mix, and Emma, my old Newfoundland girl that I had since her birth.

            Jo notified me shortly after my adoption of Skylar, that there would be a litter due in the Helping Paws organization and asked if I was still interested in being a puppy raiser.

            I gave it a lot of thought, and in fact I had been giving it a lot of thought since that day  I first visited them. However, Skylar, at the time, was still very much a puppy and a very large puppy at five months old, and still needed direction. To take on another pup at this time would probably not be wise.  Also, in the back of my mind was that heavily weighted question. 
"If I were to become a puppy raiser, I would be its foster and trainer for approximately two and a half to three years and then I would have to give it up. Could I do that?"

One Year Later

            A year flew by since I considered becoming a puppy raiser. One day an email came to my inbox inviting me to join Helping Paws at their upcoming open house to meet the dogs and some of the recipients.   Skylar’s training was going fantastic, and in that year sadly, I had lost my old girl Emma. The house was now down to just two dogs.

            “Hey Pete?” I yelled from the basement. “Do you want to take a ride to Hopkins?”
            “What?” Peter asked. “What’s in Hopkins?”
            “Helping Paws.” I replied. “You know that place that trains the service dogs? They are having an open house. You can see the facility and how they do things.”
            “Sure!” Pete replied. “Why not?” 

            And so we went. We met and talked with many puppy raisers as well as talked to the recipients of dogs past.  The rest, as they say, is history!  

            That ‘thought’, the one that weighed so heavily in my mind, of giving the dog up,  had been played out over and over again in my mind for a year, and was still lurking in the background.
       With that thought however, also came the thought of my mom, who was stricken with polio in her twenties and raised a family of six.  How awesome would it have been if she could have had such a dog to help her?  Of course, that thought was a bit selfish on my part as my childhood Saturday mornings came to mind. Had she had an assistance dog to aid her, the dog could have walked with her and the bundles of laundry to the laundromat, spent the day with her washing and drying those bundles, and it would have left my Saturdays free!   Pathetic I know!

            Weighing it all out, in the end I thought, how selfish of me!  Yes, I will cry for weeks once the dog is gone. Let’s face it, you can’t go through that much bonding time and not have it effect you.  But, my few weeks of crying, is not enough of a reason to not do it. My heart may feel empty for a while, but another’s heart will be filled for a lifetime.

            And so, I began the journey three weeks ago, with a little black Labrador Retriever from the Max and Myrtle litter, also known as the “E” litter, who Peter and I  have named Eddie.

            These last  threes weeks have been a lot of exploring, shaping, and getting to know each other, and yes, there is already that bond, and I see it each time I take him into public to socialize him around people. He is pleasant in his greetings with all, but his eye contact always comes back to me.  This is the making, I believe, of a great service dog.

            Just a few nights ago, Peter and I had the pleasure to attend the graduation of twenty Helping Paws service dogs. It was a handing over of the leash, from the puppy raiser family, to a matched recipient and a new journey for the dog.

            The new owners of these beloved dogs had the opportunity to share their feelings with the crowd. I had the pleasure to once again take pictures and video, and would like to share their thoughts with you via a video in the link below. The video has been shortened for time, but all the sentiments from the recipients were the same. Sentiments of thanks and gratitude to all who took part in such a precious gift which would give them back a part of their life.

At the time of the graduation, the recipients had been working with their dog for three weeks, getting to know each other and cramming in all the learning that the puppy raisers had done over the years.  When you think about it, that’s a lot of homework!

Helping Paws is a non profit organization that runs on the generosity of others. If you would like to get involved or make a donation please go to their link.  The cost to the recipients is minimal due to the volunteers and public’s general outreach and donations. Please, go to the link and see how you can help.

 Helping paws link:  

          The Graduation 2015

My first visit with Helping Paws

Eddie  9 weeks old 

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