Team Foster is committed to ensuring “No Hero Left Behind.”
For us, that involves raising money to train service dogs and pair them with Veterans who may be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). But much like our brothers and sisters in arms, we can’t do this alone.
We at Team Foster are proud to partner with Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), a program of Keystone Human Services based out of Grantville, PA. SSD breeds, trains and places assistance dogs to help Veterans and others lead the life they want to lead.
In an effort to highlight our partnership and the puppy raising program that our service dogs complete, we recently spoke with Deb Tack, the Executive Director of Susquehanna Service Dogs.
A Shared Mission: Supporting Veterans
SSD shares Team Foster’s commitment to bettering the lives of those they serve. To use Deb’s own words, “SSD shares the same mission: ‘to help Veterans live the life they want to lead.’” Deb explained that this looks different for each Vet, whether the goal is “sleeping through the night, going on a vacation with family, or attending their child’s parent-teacher conference at school.” Whatever the Vet needs help with – Susquehanna Service Dogs will provide; giving a sense of “increased independence.”
Get With The Program: Puppy Raising 101
In order to give our sponsors, riders, and volunteers a better sense of how their time and money is making an impact, we asked Deb to provide an overview of SSD’s puppy raising program. This is how it works…
Until a puppy is eight to nine weeks old, it will stay at an SSD volunteer’s home before visiting the SSD training facility. Once the puppy is brought to the facility, it will receive a temperament test to ensure that the animal is matched with the right person to help raise it.
There are many important considerations to matching a puppy with its raiser, including whether the raiser has an active or more laidback lifestyle. Deb notes that “properly matching a puppy with its raiser comes from years of experience.”
From there, the Puppy Raiser attends an online class to prepare in advance of in-person learning. Once everyone is ready for in-person learning, the raiser meets their puppy, receives starter supplies and guidance from the SSD trainers.
In-person learning occurs every week for the first nine weeks, then shifts to twice a month, plus an outing. Overall, the program lasts around a year and a half. Puppy Raisers don’t need any prior experience with training or raising dogs to participate. Interested in becoming a Puppy Raiser? Contact Us.
In all, each puppy learns over 25 “cues,” including, “sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel,” and others, such as “visit,” where they are taught to “go and rest their chin on the lap of the person they’re working with,” says Deb.
It’s Not Over Yet: The Puppy Training Continues
Once the puppy and its raiser complete the year and a half-long program, they’re good to go, right? Wrong.
The Puppy Raiser program is just the beginning of the process. Once the puppy is 15 months old, it undergoes a “higher-level evaluation,” says Deb. Following this round, SSD determines which puppies will move forward and which might be better suited for a different venture, like their breeding program.
As Deb shares, “it’s all about listening to what the dogs tell or show us.” “We don’t make them become service dogs if they don’t want to become service dogs.”
So what about the dogs that are ready for service?
The dogs that continue on to become service dogs complete SSD’s “advanced training program” – like “two semesters of college,” Deb says.
In the first semester, the trainers take what the puppy has learned and “kick it up a notch.” They assess the dog’s talents to determine what type of service dog it will be. The staff reviews the waitlist in order to find potential matches for each dog (a Veteran in need). The potential matches are invited to meet with the dog-in-training before they move to semester two, and close out their training by working on specific tasks.
When the dog finishes semester two, its match comes to the facility to learn how the dog has been trained and what cues it knows. Then, with the support of SSD, the new service dog team will visit public settings and practice working together in increasingly more difficult locations (eg., grocery stores, airports, etc.).
After that, the service dog is officially placed in the care and custody of its Veteran. The service dog team will complete a public access test again at six months after placement, at the twelve-month mark, and then every year thereafter.
In addition to the lifetime support from Team Foster, each Veteran partner receives support for its service dog from SSD through the dog’s retirement for any questions or resources needed.
In terms of the most desirable breeds for training, SSD works mostly with Labrador Retrievers because of their “intelligence, eagerness to learn, and easy transferability between people,” but also works with a “small population of Golden Retrievers and Labrador/Golden crosses.”
Helping Others is the Best Reward: Why Become A Puppy Raiser
If you’re wondering how you can help Team Foster’s ensure there is No Hero Left Behind, then you might consider becoming a puppy raiser.
Deb says that many people feel as though they can’t participate in the puppy raising program because they “can’t give the dog away.”
She counters that argument by emphasizing how “life-changing” the process of raising a service dog is, noting “the first life the raiser will change is their own.”
Raising a puppy can teach patience. It can also be a family affair and allow parents to teach their children responsibility while giving back to their community from a young age.
In fact, the most common way people learn of SSD’s program is by encountering someone who completed it – “running into a puppy raiser or Veteran with their service dog in public, or speaking to a friend, neighbor, or fellow member of their child’s school who is participating,” Deb says.
Another added benefit?
The puppy raiser isn’t just changing the life of the Veteran the dog is eventually matched with, but also the people who love them.
Deb shares that Veterans’ family members have expressed their appreciation for the service dog. They no longer have to worry about the Vet in their life and feel safe knowing that there’s a service dog around.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a puppy raiser, click here.
For more information about Susquehanna Service Dogs or to contact Deb, click here.
charlie mike. [Continue Mission.]