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Puppy Raisers: You can train service animals to give people with medical conditions a helper, companion
By Daisy Mae Delray
Nov 12, 2013, 19:32

BJ, a dainty black Lab, is Bruce Hildebrand’s constant companion and his eyes. She is a graduate of a service dog training school in the Northeast. BJ came to the training after 14 months with a puppy raiser.
She had an inauspicious beginning as she was one of 11 pups turned into an animal shelter. Her personality was so strong that she was picked to see if she could be a service dog. After some basic health and other testing she was placed with a human family to learn socialization and basic obedience training.
Bruce told me that he gives a thorough thumbs up for the puppies and the job they do when their training is completed. He considers himself, BJ and the puppy raisers a team. He called it “the love chain of raisers to owners.”
"Life is totally different with the aid of BJ" Bruce explained. "It is safer for me, I can move faster with BJ who is very cautious in traffic. It is cool to go breezing along and socially BJ can be an icebreaker who helps me chill and relax. Having BJ in my life, the physical contact and the companionship have been precious."
Bruce says that he has become a calmer person and that it is all about, “God, gratitude and joy with the mood going up and down the leash."
Bruce and BJ told me to tell my gentle readers that being a puppy raiser is a wonderful gift to the raiser and to the recipient of the trained dog.
Paisley and Cassidy are two black Labs who were raised by my friend Tracy Di Fulgo who was a hotel manager at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. On a typical day, Cassidy and Paisley, wearing their light blue training vests, headed off to the hotel. They spent some time in Tracy’s office, went for walks with the bell staff, were taken around the hotel and maybe participated in a spouse program if there was a convention in the hotel.
The Shoreham totally embraced the puppy raiser program and supported and promoted Tracy’s passion for the soon-to-be service dogs. After being a puppy raiser for more than five years, Tracy has seen so many positives to being a part of this effort.
“Can’t imagine not doing this, she said, “This is a big part of my day”.
I researched and was so excited to find a service dog training organization based out of Jackson, Mississippi that has a puppy raiser program. It is Gallant Hearts Guide Dog Center and the director is Becky Floyd.
Becky knows about service dogs as she is blind herself and has worked with one since 1964. Becky gave me some information on "graduates" and also their puppy raiser program. Maggie and Mattie are two southern-born red Dobermans who now live in Canada with Caitlyn and Mark. Caitlyn got Maggie in March of 2013 and Mark's "eyes" Mattie arrived in August. I had a nice conversation with Caitlyn who loves her Dobie and says that Maggie is a great dog who really makes her life better.
Food and vet care are expensive so I asked Becky about the cost to raise a puppy. She told me that the majority of the expenses are covered. Gallant Hearts provides veterinary care, food, and obedience training classes for the puppy which will remain with the family for twelve to sixteen months and then may transition into the formal training program.
When I first interviewed Tracy, my friend in Virginia, my first question was. "How can you raise a pup for a year and half and then be able to give it up?" Tracy told me that when she raised her first puppy Margie, it was difficult to see her go. “After a couple of weeks I went to the school to visit and saw Margie, she came over and said “hi” and went off to play.” Tracy told me that after seeing the dogs in action she realized that they have “such a sense of purpose” and “they are the happiest dogs”.
If you are interested in becoming a puppy raiser go to the Gallant Hearts Guide Dog Center website at www.gallanthearts.org. There is information on what a puppy raiser does and contact phone numbers. Becky said that you will need to housebreak the puppy, take it to as many places as possible, teach it good manners and give it lots of love. With the "Guide Dog in Training Vest" and your Gallant Hearts Puppy Raiser identification card there are many places who will welcome you. It is always a good idea to check with stores first.
The puppy you get could be a Golden Retriever, German Shepherd or a Doberman.
Becky wishes that "We could find more puppy raisers on the coast (there is only one right now) as we will have a volunteer on the coast who could help puppy raisers with their dogs"
A friend of mine Kathy, who is raising her third puppy, Chase told me. “I can’t seem to express to people that I don’t raise for the community service hours. I don’t raise dogs to look good on my college application.
“I don’t raise for the recognition. I raise to make a difference, I raise to educate, I raise because I love being a part of this amazing program and helping to shape these incredible dogs. Community service should be something you pour your heart into and enjoy so much that it may reflect in your volunteer work. My heart goes into each dog and I willingly part with them to better someone else’s life. I hope to continue raising dogs after college and I hope that people realize the reward of helping others far outweighs the sacrifice of the sadness of letting go. To be able to give of myself is skill that will help me to be a contributing member of society and a caring human being.”
What could I add to that except to say - consider being a puppy raiser and to learn more about service dogs in general, like me a seizure alert dog, do an internet search on "The Service Dog Guidebook, Working Like Dogs." It is a site run by my dear friend Marcie Davis.
Keep your tail high and your feet dry -
Love Daisy Mae


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