Thursday, July 18, 2019

Service Dog Makes His Partner’s World Bigger

Guest post by Heather Campbell

I grew up an overachiever. One teacher described me as having an A+ personality instead of the regular A type. So I thought nothing of working two jobs and going to school full time when I was 24 in 2012. It was hard, but I loved to work hard and I was going after my dreams. Then I started having my seizures and everything changed rapidly. My world became very narrow. I didn't leave my apartment for much of anything, my depression and anxiety shot through the roof, I was dealing with seizures, fainting, and nerve pain, and I found that many things that seemed so easy before—like picking something up off the floor or walking for long periods of time—were suddenly out of reach.

When I got my diagnosis, one of the things recommended to us was looking into having a service dog. As soon as I could, I started applying. SSD was the only one in the half dozen applications I initially sent out that said yes. From that first submission to receiving SSD Cricket, it took four years. In that time, I had over a dozen concussions and had injured myself in many ways with my seizures. I still struggled to get out of the house, to the point where I was starting to get afraid to do so.

SSD Cricket

When Cricket walked in during Meet the Dogs, it was like everything clicked into place. He zeroed in on me right away, was eager to please, gentle despite his food drive, and a giant goof when we were just getting to know each other. I remember telling Amanda [SSD’s director of training and breeding] and the others "I think he just fetched my heart and took it with him." I was hopeful for a match from the group after doing so well, but I truly was hoping for Cricket above all.

Heather and SSD Cricket with her wife and Cricket's puppy raisers

Being matched with him was amazing, but training with him was even better. He was responsive and I could see opportunities opening in front of me with every moment. He read my body better than I could sometimes and responded amazingly. During one of the practices with the cue Pillow, where he pillows my head while I'm on the ground, I found myself feeling a seizure coming on. Despite it only being Cricket's second time seeing one of my seizures, he stayed right where he was and I was able to just focus on getting through it. He helped me up to my knees after and I couldn't stop myself from crying. 

SSD Cricket relaxing under a table

Looking at Cricket was like looking at a chance at having a life again. He's the key to taking my world- which has consisted mostly of my house and times my wife could take me places- and making it bigger. I don't need to be afraid of going places. I'm not afraid of being alone. Because I'm not alone- I have my partner, and we're looking out for each other. He's given me both purpose and independence. 

Cricket and I couldn't be a better pair. We both strive to do well, we respond amazing to praise, and we are both so proud to be part of the SSD team. Normally, I'm a rescue sort of animal parent, but in this case, the rescue went the other way around. He's rescued me. 

To support future partnerships like Heather's with SSD Cricket, donate to build a new training facility for Susquehanna Service Dogs. With a new facility, SSD will be able to serve more people on our waiting list in a shorter amount of time. You can make a difference! Give now:

Friday, May 17, 2019

How SSD Nugget Changed a Life

“One of the ways Nugget has helped me in life is by giving me the ability to walk on my own to the pond near my house for the first time ever.”

That’s what Marissa Kitzinger says about her service dog, SSD Nugget. Nugget has been giving her the confidence to do things she never thought she could do before.

For years before getting Nugget, she dreamed of walking by herself to the local pond to go fishing. Three days after her service dog came home with her, she got herself and Nugget ready and went for a walk in the neighborhood, something she hadn’t done in the 15 years she had lived there. Since that day, they have gone on many walks and went fishing at the local pond.

Rosemary, Marissa’s mother, says, “Nugget has an effect on Marissa that is hard to explain but easy to see. She walks taller with confidence in public spaces, she is calmer in crowds, and she is more focused on Nugget and less distracted. I imagine they will have many new adventures and experiences together as Marissa continues her college journey and chooses her path in life.”

The world has opened for Marissa, with the help of the black lab by her side.

You can be part of stories like Marissa and SSD Nugget. Donate to help a dog change a life through our CrowdRise campaign. Every dollar you donate brings us closer to building a new training facility so we can continue training and placing dogs like Nugget.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

SSD Phelps Is My Lifeline to the World

Guest post by Lisa Edwards, partnered with SSD Phelps

This October, I successfully obtained a service dog through Susquehanna Service Dogs. His name is SSD Phelps. SSD Phelps is a gentle giant and he is attentive and supportive of my anxiety from PTSD due to my military service. As we embarked on our journey together, it was clear to the staff, volunteers, and other partners that Phelps was clearly allowing me to gain confidence. Without the support from his whelping family, puppy raisers Katie and Eddie, and with the army of support from staff, trainer, volunteers and everyone who make SSD the organization that it is, Phelps and I could not have made the strides that we have in changing my life. Phelps is my lifeline to the world and has opened doors that I would have never dreamed could be open again.

When Phelps was born his whelping family made sure that he got used to lots of different sounds and objects. She worked on socialization him with his siblings, essential training needed for newborn puppies. After 8 weeks, she successfully transitioned Phelps to his puppy raisers, Katie and Eddie, who were instrumental in preparing Phelps for a life of service. They helped him learn basic cues, and then things I need him to do for me. They orientated him to the public and other animals and prepared Phelps for advanced training. For 2 years, they went to puppy classes, progressing Phelps through the different stages of training until Phelps was ready for advanced training. At the SSD facility, Phelps stayed at the kennel Monday through Friday and went back to Katie and Eddie on the weekends where they continued to work with him.

Once Phelps entered advanced training, Kara (one of SSD's trainers) took over his training to do specific tasked that I needed him to do for me. She taught him lap, squish, go behind, find the phone, find me, and other tasks. Phelps knew the cues when we started team training. I believe it was easier to train Phelps than it was to train me. Kara could not do this alone. The other SSD staff made sure that Phelps was ready for training every day and after training, they took care of him in the evenings. They made sure he was fed, and had time just to be a dog by allowing him to play with the other dogs in the kennel with him.

None of this could not of happened  without the dedication of SSD staff, and countless volunteers who made sure that Phelps made all his veterinary appointments, transported him back and forth to different training sites around Harrisburg, and watched him when his raisers left town. The fundraisers that are set up throughout the year to support all the dogs in the program are critical, as well as educating the community about what a service dog is and where these dogs can go in public.

SSD Phelps has already made a difference in my life. He has become the lifeline to a world that had been closed off to me for many, many years. Phelps and I have been to state parks that I had not been to in many years. We have been to the movies, which I had not been to in 22 years. We have gone out to eat. We have gone to many stores in my area, and have many more adventures ahead of us. We even have some speaking engagements where I will educate people on service dogs, service dog etiquette, and explain what SSD does and what the process is for obtaining a service dog through them.

Phelps has given me a lifeline to the world! 

Help a dog help a veteran by donating to Susquehanna Service Dogs. SSD is in the middle of a capital campaign to build a new training facility to train and place life-changing service dogs. Your donation makes a difference and changes lives! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Changing Lives at 95

Post by Pam Foreman, Director of Susquehanna Service Dogs

Every year when we give the Nancy and Robert Fierer Spirit of Volunteerism Award, we know so many are deserving. In fact, that is exactly what this year’s recipient said when I told him he was chosen. He said, “What about all those raisers and other volunteers who do so much more than me and are so much more deserving?” That is the humble nature of this year’s recipient, Melvin Brownold. 

At 95 years old, Mel is Susquehanna Service Dogs’ eldest volunteer, and a true inspiration to other SSD volunteers and staff.

He began volunteering in 2009 when his wife Janie became ill, and he wanted a project to throw his energy into as he embarked on a new stage in his life.

As a retired Air Force Pilot, Mel knows the meaning of service and dedication to a cause, and that is exactly what he has done for SSD. He has dedicated his energy to our mission and championed SSD over the many years he has volunteered.

Most notably Mel has made an impact by being a public volunteer.  Each week he can be seen pulling up to a mall, or a grocery store, or other venue in his baby blue convertible (weather permitting, top down), where he meets the trainers and other public volunteers to help train our AT dogs and prepare them for their future partner.  

Despite his age, and some of the physical challenges that come with it, he is always on time and ready to work his dog, even if the weather isn’t all that agreeable. Three years ago Mel underwent heart surgery. After a short recovery he was back volunteering. He hasn’t skipped a day volunteering for SSD since. He is reliable and engaged, putting his own comfort as secondary to improving someone’s life through the gift of a skilled service dog.

Mel is the proud father to five children, grandfather of seven, and great-grandfather of three. Whenever his family is in town, he stops by for a visit to show them the work we do. His love for SSD is truly apparent during these visits. Actually, Mel takes any opportunity he can to educate anybody about SSD, as well as how they too, can contribute.

Mel donates financially and encourages others to do the same, he shows up at informational meetings and at events with genuine interest, a willingness to serve, and with wise counsel. He is an intelligent, experienced businessman and offers a sharp mind and a lifetime of expertise to SSD.

Mel’s fellow volunteers describe him as a joy to be around and an inspiration, humble in nature, deeply caring about the needs and comfort of the dogs as well as their needs. He is also described as a lot of fun. Like the time he fooled them into thinking he was carrying the 70 pound black lab he had been training earlier that day, only to find as they got closer it was a stuffed animal he bought when they weren’t looking. After they recovered from their shock and concern, the dog (named Neut, for Neutered) was strapped into the front seat of his convertible and off they went.

While his time volunteering in a physical capacity may evolve and as he’s questioned his physical ability, his first and biggest concern is whether he will hinder the needs of the dogs and program, and asks, “When that happens what else can I do for SSD? Where can my efforts best serve the program?”

When we think of Nancy and Robert, and especially Nancy and what she epitomized regarding perseverance in support and love for this program….and doing so as a volunteer, we think of Mel, because he also epitomizes that same spirit. 

He is contributing in a full, robust way, with his main focus being what is good for the dogs, and SSD, and future partner--and doing so at 95 years old.
Please join me in congratulating Mel on this well-deserved recognition.

The Nancy and Robert Fierer Spirit of Volunteerism Award is given out annually to a volunteer who is a champion of SSD and our mission. Recipients of this award not only support our work raising and training service dogs, but they truly embrace the heart of our mission--to support people to live their best lives with their service dog at their side.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Help a Dog Change a Life

We're so excited to share our new video with you! Please watch and see how a cute little puppy grows up to change someone's life!

But we're excited for more than just our video. Today, we launched our CrowdRise campaign to help raise funds for a new training complex so we can continue to train high quality assistance dogs. We need your help to make it a success!

Visit our CrowdRise campaign, donate, and share!

As Kira says in the video, assistance dogs are "living proof that a life has been changed."


Monday, April 1, 2019

This puppy has BIG plans!

This little puppy has BIG plans! We’re unveiling something big next week, and we’re going to need your help to make it a success. We’re as excited about it as this puppy running down the hill!

Get ready for the big reveal on April 8 because #DogsChangeLives!

We see how dogs change people’s lives every day. From the moment they’re born, our puppies start changing lives.

Our whelping families often tell us that even though it’s a lot of work to take care of tiny puppies for their first eight weeks, they always miss them when it’s time for the pups to move on to their raisers.

The puppies spend 15-18 months with their raisers, learning good house manners and over 20 cues, and practicing their skills in public  in places like stores, sporting events, movie theaters, schools, and more. With every step of their journey, they’re making an impact.

Puppy raiser Sandra Creason says, “Raising service dogs has become such a huge and important part of my life. I don’t remember what my life was like before I started this journey.”

Perhaps most significantly, these dogs change the lives of their partners. Bill Glaser is partnered with SSD Savannah, and their bond has changed Bill’s life. His wife, Ali, says, “He has hope, and her name is SSD Savannah!”

Has a dog or service dog made an impact in your life? Share your story in the comments!  

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Bring Your Dog to PawsAbilities!

Who’s coming to PawsAbilities on Saturday?

We’re holding canine festival on March 30 from 9 am to 4 pm at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. You and your dog can shop at all the vendors, run the lure course, try your luck at Paw Draw, and of course, play your favorite Dog Olympic Games!

Most of our Dog Olympic Games are based on the skills we teach our service dogs. But don’t worry! All dogs are welcome and able to play these games.

Some games will test your dog’s self-control, like Temptation Tower where you build a tower out of dog treats while your dog ignores it. Self-control is at the foundation of our service dog training. Our dogs have to ignore food and other enticing things in the environment.

Other games will test your dog’s ability to move around in space, like the fan favorite Doggy Limbo. What does the limbo have to do with service dog training? Our dogs need to be able to go under tables and benches, and curl up in small spaces like under the seat of an airplane. They may need to crawl under a chair to retrieve an item that rolled under there.

Some games will test your dog’s ability to listen to and perform cues promptly, like Musical Hoops, where your dog must sit with at least two paws in the hoop when the music ends. As working service dogs, our dogs must not only perform tasks promptly, but also enjoy their work. For example, if their partner drops something, the dog will need to pick it up every time.

Other games are just for fun, like the Clean Plate Club. What dog doesn’t want to eat dog biscuits, cheese, and hot dogs? The majority of the dogs we train are labs, and they’re incredibly food motivated. (That’s why self-control is also so important!) Biscuits and cheese? Yum! Hot dogs? Delicious! How about lettuce? Lemons? Play the game and find out what your dog will eat!

We hope you and your dog will join the fun at PawsAbilities! Tickets are available online. And parking is free!

You can find all the details at