Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whelping a Litter of Puppies for the First Time

The Jackson family thought that whelping a litter of puppies in their home would be a fun thing to do.

Turns out, they were right.

The Jacksons are whelping their first litter of puppies, the D litter. Dexter, Dory, Dudley, Duke, Delilah, Diesel, Dewey, and Diego just turned six weeks old, and they’ve been living with the Jacksons since they were three days old. The mom, GEB Boise from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, gave birth to the eight puppies on June 25 at the SSD kennel.

“Who doesn’t want a litter of puppies in your house?” said Jane Jackson. Besides seeing these adorable puppies sleeping and hearing their little puppy noises when they dream, her favorite things about whelping a litter is having puppy huggers visit her home and sharing information about Susquehanna Service Dogs with them. She also loves watching the puppies make progress. For example, one puppy wasn’t comfortable being alone, but then one day did fine by himself. Another puppy walked along the teeter-totter and managed to stay on all four paws.

Caring for a litter of puppies isn’t all puppy snuggles and playtime, though. There’s a good bit of work involved. We keep track of a lot of information about the pups, including their weight, and that means lots of note-taking. And of course, they’re puppies, so there’s always something to clean, whether it’s the whelping box, a puppy, or the puppies’ toys. The toys and objects are rotated through the whelping box so the pups gain exposure to a variety of new objects, and every time a toy is removed, it needs to be cleaned.  

Each day, the puppies need to be exposed to something new, such as crate time, visiting other rooms, new toys and objects, and different smells, surfaces, and sounds. The Jacksons have a white board with a to-do list for the pups, as well as a chalkboard to keep track of which puppies have already been taken care of. It’s different than raising one puppy, says Jane. There are eight puppies to expose to clicker training.

“You don’t really have any idea what you’re getting into until you actually do it,” she said. “It’s like having kids. There are certain rules you have to follow for SSD, but you also have to figure out how to make it easy for yourself. You need to think outside the whelping box.”

The Jacksons and the Wengers, another first-time whelping family who’s caring for the “C” litter, have been paired with two of our experienced whelpers. Susan Tyson and Diane Bohenick, both of whom have whelped numerous litters for us, are just a phone call or text away, and they have lots of tips for the first-time whelpers. For example, Susan suggested using baby food as a treat for the puppies. That way, you can just dip your finger into the jar and let the pups lick it off. Jane has been using chicken and rice or beef vegetable baby food for the “D” puppies. Diane and Susan also suggested having an outdoor space for the puppies.

Taking care of eight puppies is time-consuming, and our other volunteers offered some tips that have been real time-savers. For example, at least half of the whelping area is covered in newspaper, and this section serves as a pottying area for the pups. We’re always collecting newspapers for the puppies. However, one of our volunteers, Betsy Smith, rolls the newspaper rather than folding it, which makes it very easy to grab one or two sheets. The Jacksons also bought a large piece of vinyl to protect their hardwood floor in the puppies’ area. A lot of people may be hesitant to whelp a litter because they’re worried the puppies will mess up their house. But the puppies don’t really mess up the house, said Jane.

“Susan and Diane made it look easy and fun,” said Jane. “And the Ds are very laid back. They sleep a lot.”

Thank you to the Jacksons and the Wengers for taking care of the “C” and “D” puppies for the first eight weeks of their lives!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

New Service Dog Teams

This week is International Assistance Dog Week, a week devoted to celebrating assistance dogs and the many ways they change people’s lives. We started celebrating a little early this year because last Friday, three people passed the public access test with their new service dogs. SSD Ottawa and SSD Slate are now working service dogs, and SSD Boomerang is a facility dog in a school. And in June, four more dogs were placed—SSD Beaker, SSD Brooklyn, SSD Falstaff, SSD Hamlet, and SSD Seifert.

These dogs and their partners spent two weeks in Team Training learning how to work together. They started by practicing the most basic skills, such as attention, sit, down, and stay, and moved on to the specialized skills and behaviors each dog learned specifically for their partner.

Congratulations to all of our new service dog teams! We’re looking forward to hearing stories about your new service dogs.

We mentioned that our new teams passed their public access test, which means we have certified that their service dog meets certain standards. The dog will be able to go anywhere in public with their partner—restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, post offices, grocery stores, etc. Even though the dogs are allowed by law to accompany their partners in public, not everyone knows and understands the law. Service dog teams are often denied access because people don’t understand that service dogs are not pets.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lays out the law for service dogs. These ADA requirements are available online.

Here’s a quick overview of the ADA as it pertains to service dogs:
  • Service dogs perform tasks or do work for people with disabilities. Service dogs are not pets.
  • Any business, nonprofit, or state and local government that serves the public must allow service dogs to accompany people with disabilities everywhere the public is normally allowed to go. This means, for example, that a person with a service dog cannot be seated in the back of a restaurant far away from the other patrons.
  • Service dogs must be under the control of their handler.
  • Other people can only ask two questions about a service dog: (1) is the dog a service dog required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
If you see a service dog in public, please remember not to pet it. Don’t pet, feed, talk to, or otherwise interact with a service dog. The dog is working. Of course, you can certainly talk to the person, and if they give you permission to pet their dog, you can. However, if the person says no, please respect their choice.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Three Weeks Old and Growing!

The “C” Litter puppies are three weeks old and growing quickly! They’re eyes and ears are open, and they’re wobbling around on all four paws. If you’re lucky enough to catch them awake on the puppy cam, you’ll see them playing with each other and the baby toys in the whelping box.

Cosmo, Charcoal, Cameo, Clementine, Colt, Cookie Dough, and Colorado were born on June 23 to GEB Talent, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Talent will be visiting SSD for three litters, and half her puppies will stay with us and the other half will return to Guiding Eyes for the Blind with their mother. Thank you to GEB for donating the litters to us!

And now, here are the long awaited portraits of the “C” puppies!


Monday, June 30, 2014

Lancaster County Courthouse's Newest Employee Has Four Paws

Lancaster County Courthouse has a new employee—and this one walks on four paws. SSD Hamlet has started working at the courthouse as a facility dog. He’ll be working with participants in the Veterans, Mental Health, and Drug Treatment Courts, and he’s only the second dog in the United States to work in the treatment courts. SSD Buster of York County was the first.

Hamlet’s job is to help reduce the stress and anxiety of participants going through the treatment courts. Unlike other working dogs, his harness does not include a “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” patch because part of his job includes being petted by individuals going through the court system. Research has shown that petting a dog and interacting with a dog can raise the levels of oxytocin in a person, which in turn helps decrease anxiety and stress.

“Traditionally, the court has been seen as ‘the hammer,’ a place of punishment and fear,” says Teri Miller-Landon, the Division Director of Special Supervision for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole and one of Hamlet’s primary handlers. “But the court is also about rehabilitation and assimilation.”

Having Hamlet there will help people see the court as a place of support, where they can find the resources they need so they can graduate from the program. When they see it as a positive place, they’re more likely to come to court for help.

Hamlet will be working in the courtroom once a week. The rest of the time, he will sit in on appointments with probation officers, offering his special form of canine support. He has been trained to do several tasks, including “visit” (resting his head in someone’s hand or lap), “lap” (putting his front legs on someone’s lap), and “place” (sitting between someone’s legs). And Hamlet sometimes adds a few doggy kisses when he’s performing a cue.  

Hamlet was officially introduced in court on June 26, and he’s already gaining a reputation as a source of support. After his court appearance, many people stopped by to pet him for a few moments. In fact, Hamlet’s presence at the courthouse is affecting more than just the participants in the treatment court. He is also helping to reduce the stress of court employees. A few moments with Hamlet after a stressful phone call or meeting can make all the difference.

When he’s not working at the courthouse, Hamlet lives with Karen Andreadis, the Treatment Court Coordinator for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole. He gets plenty of time to relax and just be a dog. We hear that he loves playing with Karen’s other dogs and taking his toys out to his favorite tree.

In case you missed it on June 26, here’s the news story about Hamlet’s official introduction in court.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Team Training and the People Behind the Scenes

Since Monday, five people have been learning how to work with their new service dogs. We’re in the midst of Team Training, a time when individuals receive their service dogs, learn all the cues and behaviors, and learn how to work in public as a team. This is a challenging, but amazing, two and a half weeks. You can see more photos from the week on our Facebook Page.

A lot of hard work and love goes into the training of each service dog, including over 20,000 volunteer hours. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make Team Training possible. Our new director Pam Foreman’s presentation from this year’s graduation gives a glimpse of the people who make Team Training and all of SSD possible. You’ll also learn a little more about Pam and the future of SSD.

May 2014 Graduation
presentation by Pam Foreman

It feels good to be here in this room with all of you tonight celebrating the work you have done and the good result of that work. 

I was told this would be a beautiful night, a wonderful celebration, and a moving tribute to many fabulous people and some pretty terrific dogs, and that certainly proved to be true.

When I was growing up and deciding what I wanted to do, I knew one thing.  I wanted to work with people.  I wanted to be part of something that allowed people, all of us, the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest, to live a good and rich life full of purpose and meaning and value.  In order to do that, I discovered, we need something called interdependence more than something called independence.  That’s what we have here.  That’s what we have in this room.  That’s what we have in this program.

I grew up in Keystone Human Services and consider myself fortunate that I did.  I started as an intern in my last year of college and stayed 33 years….and counting.  The mission and vision resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now.  I worked in the intellectual disabilities programs and had the great privilege to see many lives changed, including mine, over the course of those years.  I’ve witnessed the beauty and richness of life as people challenged themselves to be more and have more and do more and give more. It has been an honor.

Before I came to SSD, I was a bit infatuated with the program and excited about what it stood for.  I believed what it offered people to have the opportunities to be more fully engaged in their neighborhoods and communities, to live a life more like their family and friends, to engage in valued roles, and generally have a good life.  Since I started at SSD, that has been confirmed, and the infatuation and excitement only grew as I got to know Nancy, the staff, the dogs, and some of you sitting in the audience.

In a very short time I have come to deeply value my relationship with Nancy and what she has offered me, in sharing her knowledge and her faith in me to carry on.  It has humbled me and touched me and grown me.  My words truly fail in describing the gift of that. None of us would be celebrating what we are tonight if it were not for her….and her son wanting a dog all those years ago.   She established the foundation and reputation that will carry us forward.  And she promised me she’s only a phone call away.

The staff.  I have been energized by this impressive group of people and how they’ve welcomed me and what they’ve already taught me.  They are very good at what they do and it gives me great comfort knowing they are there.  Everyone has communicated to me their love for this program and their desire to take it as far as it can go.  They clearly understand, and acknowledge that it can go nowhere without all of you.
That brings me to the dedication of the volunteers.  Nowhere have I seen what I’ve seen here.  It is truly unprecedented and I sincerely stand in awe.  You are out there giving and giving and giving.  And you’re so good at what you do and an incredible representation of SSD.  I can’t wait to meet all of you and to learn from you.

The dogs.  They’re beautiful and fun and hardworking and it sure makes life a little better going to work knowing they’re around.

And clients, the person side of the team.  Resilient and strong and diligent—listening and learning and making it work.  You are why we do what we do and we’re honored to be a little part of your life story.  

The future definitely looks very good.  The number of litters, and dogs, is growing and the collaboration through Assistance Dogs International and the North America Breeding Cooperative is strong. We have impressive staff, proficient volunteers, amazing clients, wonderful hardworking dogs, and a new property that will allow us to grow and to showcase this remarkable program.

Interestingly, all those years ago when I was growing up, whenever I took those vocational aptitude tests in school, they always suggested I go into animal husbandry and agriculture.  Every time. True story.  So somehow it does seem full circle, and right, that I get to be exactly where I am right now.  I know it’s a good match for me. I hope it proves to be a good match for SSD.

Thank you all for being so gracious to me. Thank you for your dedication and perseverance, for being the heart and soul of what we’re all about.

I look forward to navigating this next phase of life, and SSD, with all of you.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Changing Lives through Small Acts

Guest post by Samantha Hodge-Williams

I am writing to celebrate Nancy Fierer, a uniquely generous woman.  I will always be grateful to Nancy, who changed my life path during a critical time.

In 1997, I became suddenly ill in college with a lifelong chronic, disabling condition.  Soon after, whilst trying to support me, my mother also became disabled.  We learned about service dogs and both applied to a local Baltimore area organization.  Unfortunately, not all service dog schools are created equal, and we found ourselves with two expensive, untrained dogs from a failed organization. 

After working independently with private trainers, I contacted Nancy in hopes of completing the Susquehanna Service Dogs transfer training and certification process for each of our dogs.  Nancy agreed that we could be tested and if we performed up to the SSD standard, they would include us in the transfer training and SSD certification.  We both passed.

Before attending SSD graduation, my canine companion and new “lifeline” suddenly had liver failure and died.  Despite my determination, perseverance and lifelong optimism, I found myself so grief-stricken by this final loss that I lashed out at loved ones and everything around me.  I had reached my breaking point, feeling so lost and needing to run away.

Nancy invited me to stay with her and Robert for a few weeks, to research my options for a new successor service dog. 

I remember arriving at her house and seeing her flats of impatiens out front.  Nancy said she’d been too busy to plant any, but would be happy to “employ” me to plant the impatiens in her garden if I liked during my stay.  This small job anchored me through the darkness.  Despite my physical limitations and grief, I could leisurely do this on my own.  Rather than drifting around her home like a grieving guest or client, I felt I had a purpose.  I slowly nestled impatiens in the nooks and crevices of her trees, enjoying the shady retreat and the dirt between my fingers.  I quietly watched the staff and dogs in training, whilst watering the buds.

It is now 13 years later.  Those few weeks stand out because I know that in my grief and anger, my life could have taken a very different fork.  However, Nancy’s kind and generous welcome and work nurtured me back toward hope.  After staying at LeSentier Lane, I was able to return home and subsequently be matched with my successor dog.  SSD Aslan now lies beside me, fully retired at 13 ½ after outstanding years of reliable, joyful service. 

Thank you, Nancy, for your generous and warm welcome during my toughest time.  You restored my sense of safety and hope when it mattered the most.  I wish you and Robert all the best in your well-deserved retirement.

Samantha Hodge-Williams has been partnered with Susquehanna Service Dogs since 2000.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Will to Make a Difference

Guest post by Valerie Hodge-Williams

I am writing to celebrate Nancy Fierer and to congratulate her on her retirement.

I met Nancy at a time in my life when my world was being turned upside down, by one devastating onslaught after another. Even though we were erstwhile strangers, Nancy, supported by Robert, reached out to help my daughter Samantha and me as we grappled with our chaotic health problems and shattered lives.  She supported and encouraged us, going the extra mile in several ways, to ensure Sam and I would become successful SSD partners and teams. 

Nancy once told me that she started SSD because she became involved with dog training and realized there was an unmet need for service dogs in the Harrisburg area. She described herself as being at a point in her life (with the unfailing support of her husband Robert) where she ‘could give something back’ to the community… and so she did.  She found others with a similar interest and together they started SSD.

As I write this, I think back to the way Nancy described her experience in those three short sentences. For her it was as simple as seeing a need and doing something about it (which she continued to do, day in and day out for the next twenty years) … because she "COULD."  However, SSD would never have come into being the way Nancy describes it. It wasn’t because she COULD. Most of us are in that position, one way or another, yet nothing happens. SSD came about, not because Nancy COULD see the need and COULD do something about it, but because she WOULD.  She took the first step and then the second and kept on doing that. She had the will and therefore, slowly found a way.

When all is said and done, the total impact of Nancy’s legacy at SSD can never be accurately assessed. Even now, its two-decade ripple-effect has a life of its own, changing and transforming lives as it touches them. For example, in our own small arena, my daughter and I have each been partnered in an SSD team for the past fourteen years. We each have successor dogs. I do not think we could have continued to live independently without the help of our dogs. Consequently, the lives of those who love us and would have to care for us are improved. We are often home-bound, yet I am amazed at how many people in our local town recognize us by our service dogs and can relate stories (often ones that I have forgotten) about watching each of us work as a team.  Not only are our lives improved by the SSD dogs, but our working team always brings a smile to the faces of those surrounding us.

In conclusion, my loved ones and I have benefitted on a daily basis because of Nancy’s vision, personal effort and generosity in founding, supporting, and directing SSD for the past 20 years.  She is a powerful example of someone who not only “COULD,” but “WOULD” improve thousands of lives through service.  An example and a legacy indeed!

Nancy and Robert: With love and very best wishes to you both as you start your next adventure!

… And… once more with feeling….       Thank-you! 

Valerie Hodge-Williams has been a partner of Susquehanna Service Dogs since 2000 when she was initially partnered with SSD Spirit. Following his retirement, she was partnered with her current successor dog, SSD Phoenix.